Dive In | 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
Ah, summer! The weather's nice, the days are long and the body says, Let's play. Let's run and jump and throw and stretch and exult in movement. Summer, when exercise is automatically fun. Summer, when one of the best exercises, one of the most fun activities, becomes routine. Swimming.
Every kid - and many an adult, for that matter - loves to jump off the diving board. Whether a straight dive or cannonball, diving is fun. Part flying, part showing off, part exuberance, diving differs from plain swimming because it's faster and riskier.
Let's face it, swimming laps can be boring. It's like walking on a treadmill or jogging in place, but in water. You can't even put on headphones to distract yourself.
But diving! Even in the shallow end, the jump, the momentary suspension, the free fall - even if momentary and even to an experienced diver - is scary and exhilarating at the same time.
Of course, the more we dive, the more routine it becomes. After a while, it's just something to do. A way to get into the water. A way to break the monotony or start the routine of laps.
Yet take someone comfortable on the low board, and put him on a higher board - or on the high board. Suddenly, the anxiety and anticipation is back. The self-checking begins. The mental rehearsal of the techniques. Simply put, jumping off the high board is scary; even the pros have a twinge, a moment of hesitation before diving in.
Remember that feeling when you first learned to dive - that fear of letting go, of taking the plunge, of leaping forth from where you are, from the comfort zone (even if that comfort zone is as shaky as a diving board)? Remember not knowing how you'd get there, that momentary panic of "free fall," suspended (for a nanosecond) between heaven and earth? You crashed through the cushion; The water stung as you hit and as you sank - what if you smashed into the bottom and went too far to swim back up before your lungs burst?
And yet - you did it again, because having done it once, the thrill and the accomplishment were worth the risk, the preparation. In fact, anticipation of the sensations heightened them.
When it comes to Judaism, sometimes we have to just "dive in." We have to take the leap, let go of the fear even as we fear to let go, and jump off the diving board.
No one says we have to start with the high board. Diving into Judaism can produce enough stress that the low board can seem like the high board. And indeed, for the child - the child-level of our Judaism - it not only appears to be a high board, it actually is. But still we have to take the plunge. Still we have to dive in and sink below the surface (disappear from our mundane pursuits). And when we get good at diving from one height, with one type of dive, we have to move. It's the only way to keep the thrill and the technique fresh, sharp and meaningful.
Perhaps nowhere do we need to dive in more than when we pray. Going to services can fill us with dread. We all know the litany. Whether it's too routine or too new, whether we're too afraid or not anxious enough, we can lose the sense of leaping forth, soaring up on faith alone, of being suspended between heaven and earth, of plunging head-first into the words and sensations of the G-dliness that surrounds us.
We don't have to start on the high board. We can start on the low board - working on our Hebrew, perfecting the pronunciation of a few lines, understanding the poetry of a particular prayer - increasing our attendance and attention.
But we can't just stand on that shaky board forever. We have to dive in.
The Torah portion Shelach recounts the familiar story of the spies who were sent by Moses to investigate the land of Canaan prior to its Divinely-ordained conquest. Although each spy was personally chosen by Moses and each was quite familiar with G-d's promise, ten of the 12 defied the Almighty's will and told the people that the land was unconquerable. Even further, their fear of the Canaanites was so profound, the Talmud tells us, they said: "The inhabitants are stronger than Him" - even the Almighty could not conquer them!
How could the spies possibly make such a statement? These were men of faith and understanding; they were righteous men and wise men. What is the source of an error of this magnitude?
There is a classic parable which describes the process of becoming lost. One doesn't suddenly find himself in the depths of the dark, trackless forest. Instead, one deviates from the familiar, broad highway only a step at a time. Gradually and imperceptibly, one strays farther and farther from the road until one ends up in the forest. This is what happened to the spies: they started out as wise and righteous princes of their tribes, who knew the will and power of the Almighty, and they ended as "rebels."
What was the original step - the original hair-breadth of their error?
According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad, their first imperceptible error consisted of an unwillingness to become involved in the mundane world. In the desert, they were well isolated from the world of hardships - they "had it made." A miracle fed them (manna), a miracle gave them water (Miriam's well), a miracle provided them with clothing, and miraculous clouds hid them from their enemies. But once in Canaan, their very first task would be to wage war - an effort which wasted time and energy - even if the Almighty miraculously prevented serious casualties and bloodshed. This time and effort could better be devoted to the study of Torah.
Moreover, once the war was won, they would be required to plow and sow and tend vineyards. Quite understandably, the spies hesitated to leave the desert in order to enter the material world. In the desert they could devote all of their time and energy to Torah.
By distinction, Moses (who reflected Divine will) insisted that the Jews leave the desert and settle in the Land of Israel. The ultimate aim and fulfillment of Torah is deed! The culmination of Torah is its actualization and implementation in the real world. It is not sufficient to become involved in Torah theory. On the contrary, the land of Canaan with its 31 different cultures (all alien to Torah) had to be actually, practically conquered to make it a Holy Land - to integrate theory and practice into a unified entity.
This minor error of the spies - their adherence to a philosophy which divorced theory from practice and the spiritual from the material, was their first wrong step; other steps followed until their reasoning became so perverted that they came to make the absurd statement that "The inhabitants are stronger than Him."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Book My Soul Had Been Waiting For
by Gedalia Ferdman
I grew up in an assimilated upper middle-class suburban neighborhood. My Jewish education consisted of "afternoon school" (Hebrew school) several days a week and on Sundays. Friday nights, we made Kiddush and sat down to a family meal, then ran off to play "Friday night basketball" at the local school.
Although we did not live far from the synagogue, visits were limited primarily to Shabbat. However, as there were four boys in our house, the Rabbi would call us on those occasions when he was short a minyan. Once, my brother's Greek Orthodox friend was at our home when the Rabbi called, and he decided to tag along to shul. As it turned out, the Greek friend would have been the "tenth" for the minyan, had my brother not pointed out that he was the "wrong kind" of Orthodox!
As a young adult I developed a strong interest in psychology - not realizing that it was an attempt to make sense of this world - an understanding that my predominantly secular upbringing had denied me.
However, in spite of my intentions, none of the psychology texts I read could capture my interest for any length of time. While in college I switched my major to philosophy, in the now-conscious search for life's meaning. During that time, I plowed through the works of the ancient, medieval and modern philosophers of both the Occident and Orient, trying out this philosophy, and then that one - much like the fabled Goldilocks - searching for a good fit. However, none of the philosophies I investigated was able to reach and connect with my soul, and so I abandoned each one in turn.
Two years after college I sent myself off to yeshiva where I immersed myself in the ocean of the Talmud, which connected me with my past and provided great stimulation for my intellect. However, several years into this study, my soul still remained largely untouched.
My search led me to a study of Chasidism, and I read descriptions of different books by the Chasidic masters. One of them, however, captured my imagination above all the others: Sefer HaTanya, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, known as the Alter Rebbe. I ordered a copy and anticipated its arrival.
I can still remember my reaction the first time I read its illuminating words describing the nature and origin of the soul: I felt a tremendous excitement and my spirit soared! I jumped from my chair and began dancing around the room, hugging the holy book to my chest. This was the work my soul had been searching for all these years! I felt like Adam when he was first presented with Eve - "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh!"
Here was a book that satisfied my yearnings on so many levels: psychological, philosophical and spiritual, for which I had been searching since my teens, to help me make sense of this world and my place in it.
How is it, I wondered, that a book written in the 18th century by one of the earliest and greatest of Chasidic masters has so much relevance to a formerly-assimilated Jew born in the 20th century? The answer, of course, lies in the work's timeless nature: it is a treatise on the soul for the soul. And that soul's essence, in the case of a Jew, coming from the One Above Himself, is also timeless. So, when I read those illuminating words for the first time it was like a meeting between old friends.
Particularly gratifying - the more I learn Tanya - has been the growth in understanding of the interconnectedness of ideas and concepts that were initially so foreign, which now serve as a source of heightened spiritual awareness and understanding.
Recently, I began a one-on-one study session in Tanya with a friend of mine who expressed an interest in learning Chasidut. Being unaccustomed to the terminology and ideas of Chasidut, he asked me "What relevance is this (the study of the Tanya) to me?" I answered him that by gaining an understanding of the origin and nature of the soul, one develops insights into his inner motives and strengthens his service of G-d.
Then, lo and behold, I came across the following statement of the Rebbe:
"Although Tanya will open a person up to a deeper level of service of G-d, to love and fear of Him, its essential emphasis is on the study of the inner teachings of the Torah, achieving a perfect unity between the wisdom of man and the wisdom of G-d. This concept is so fundamental to the text that it was alluded to in its very name." That for me is the real key to the study of Tanya - connecting those lofty concepts espoused in its holy pages, with my service of G-d. Not a particularly easy task, but one whose rewards are inestimable.
Gedalia Feldbrum is director of the Asher Library of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, Illinois, where he resides with his family.
Good Deed Awards
The Good Deed Awards for Long Island Teens is the brainchild of Rabbi Anchelle Perl, director of Chabad of Mineola and the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education of Nassau County (Long Island, NY). The annual Good Deed Awards identify and show appreciation for the power of good inherent in our youth. The 11th Annual Good Deed Awards brought to a total of 345 students who have been recognized over the years for the good they have contributed to their communities.
New Torah Scrolls for Chabad Centers
Chabad Centers in East, West and Central Boca Raton, Florida all welcomed Torah scrolls into their communities recently. The East Boca Raton Torah is one that was saved from the Holocaust, while the other two Torah scrolls were newly written for their Chabad Centers. In Manchester, England, Beis Menachem Synagogue celebrated the arrival of a new Torah Scroll amidst much rejoicing by synagogue members and members of the Jewish community at large. In addition, a Torah scroll was paraded to its new home at Oholei Torah Yeshiva in Brooklyn, dedicated in memory of a number of children who had passed away.
Freely translated from a letter dated 5734/1974
... You surely know how great is the importance of peace and harmony among Jews, as is so often emphasized in our Torah.
The Torah is even more emphatic about Shalom Bayis, peace and harmony in the relationship between husband and wife. So much so that, despite the sanctity of every word in the Torah, especially the sanctity of G-d's name inscribed in the Torah, there is one occasion when G-d Himself orders His written name to be effaced by water, and that is... in order to preserve the peaceful relationship between husband and wife.
In light of the above you will find my answer to your question, which is that you ought to try your utmost not only to preserve a peaceful and harmonious relationship with your husband, but even to strengthen it and, as in every area of the desirable and good, to the point where it will serve as an inspiring example to all those around you.
Needless to say, I am not attempting to make a judgment as to who is right and who is wrong, who is at fault, and to what extent, etc., etc. But even assuming, for the sake of argument, that one of you is entirely in the right, it is still very worthwhile to do everything possible for the sake of Shalom Bayis.
Moreover, as the wisest of all men said, "As water mirrors the face to the face so does the heart of man to man." It is certain then, that a consistently friendly and conciliatory attitude on your part is bound to evoke reciprocal feeling on the part of your husband...
Freely translated from a letter dated 5726/1966
Following up on your previous correspondence, I am writing these lines to express the hope that the relationship between you and your husband has improved considerably, thereby making your marriage serve as a home for the Divine Presence, in keeping with the saying of our Sages, "When a husband and wife are meritorious, the Divine Presence dwells in their midst."
All the more so, since both of you have merited success in the education of Jewish children, regarding all of whom G-d says, "You are children unto G-d, your G-d."
It is therefore easy to envision the great merit that both you and your husband have, in that G-d has entrusted to you the chinuch (the training and education) of His children and has blessed with success your efforts to implant into their hearts love and fear of G-d.
In light of this, each of you should regard it as a special blessing to have found a mate worthy of G-d's blessing for hatzlacha [success].
Even if it appears that the other party falls short of perfection, and even if this view is not wholly imaginary, it should be remembered that true perfection belongs only to G-d.
Indeed, the very fact that we have all been commanded to go from strength to greater strength in all matters of goodness and holiness shows that there is no perfection in human beings, for obviously the previous level is imperfect by comparison with the next and higher level.
Moreover, insofar as humans are concerned, perfection itself is relative, in that different people excel in different areas.
Thus, our Sages speak of one category of Jews as Torah-learners, and of another category of Jews as mitzvah-doers. Clearly, our Sages are speaking here with regard to excelling in a particular arena, for [regarding Torah study and mitzvah observance in general,] every Jew is expected to be both a Torah-learner and a mitzvah-doer.
Hence, the difference between the two categories is a difference of excellence in each area; that is to say, in the first category excellence is to be found in their Torah scholarship, while in the other category this excellence finds expression in the fulfillment of the mitzvos.
It is surely unnecessary for me to elaborate for you on the above. I only want to emphasize that the greater the harmony, mutual respect and devotion of a husband and wife - especially where both are shomrei-Torah and mitzvos - the greater is the measure of G-d's blessings for both of them in all their needs.
This includes reward in kind - to be blessed with healthy offspring of your own, to bring them up to a life of Torah, chuppah and good deeds, in fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good.
Reprinted from Eternal Joy, edited by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
23 Sivan, 5764 - June 12, 2004
Positive Mitzva 108: The Purifying Water
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 19:21) "And he that touches the water of sprinkling (purification water) shall be unclean" A person purifying himself after contact with a dead body must follow certain procedures. One step of his purification process involves Niddah Water. This is a mixture of natural spring water, combined with the ashes of the red heifer (cow). This water possesses special qualities and when used properly, it can purify. However, it could cause the opposite effect on a person who touches the water for other purposes.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Each Shabbat afternoon, from Passover until Rosh Hashana, we customarily read a chapter from Pirkei Avot - "Ethics of the Fathers."
This Shabbat we study Chapter Three, which contains within it the following teaching from Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa: Anyone whose [good] deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom exceeds his [good] deeds, his wisdom will not endure.
There are many explanations for the words above, though at first glance they seem to be simple and self-understood. According to one source, our deeds - our observance of the positive and negative commandments in the Torah - must surpass that which we know, understand, or have studied. Thus, we cannot use the excuse, "I don't understand the meaning of the mitzva, all its ramifications, the exact manner in which to perform it, etc." For, we are expected to observe mitzvot even though we have not yet become "expert" in all their details.
A second explanation is reminiscent of Chasidic philosophy, which emphasizes the actual performance. This is especially true in the case of the unlearned person who does not necessarily understand even the simple meaning behind the mitzva. It is based on another teaching from Pirkei Avot: "Not study, but practice is the essential thing." According to this explanation, one's wisdom and Torah study will only endure if the study is accompanied by performance of mitzvot.
What does this mean to us? Studying about Judaism - history, mysticism, Chasidic stories - though certainly a worthy pursuit, is not sufficient. We must apply the knowledge we gain from such study to our own personal lives. Only by combining study with actual mitzvot is our study really of value.
Do a mitzva today! That's the important thing.
And we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes (Num. 13:2)
This statement was in itself one of the sins that the spies committed. They should not have concerned themselves with how they appeared to others. It was not enough that they felt as if they were as small as grasshoppers, they felt obliged to add that the giants agreed with them.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk)
I have forgiven according to your word (Num. 14:20)
The forgiveness which we receive from Above is "according" to our "word" - in direct relation to the degree of sincerity of our repentance. There are many degrees of pardon; each is determined by our own words.
You shall not seek after your heart and after your eyes (Num. 15:39)
The natural order would seem to be the reverse. First the eyes see something, and only afterwards does the heart desire it. Why then, does "heart" precede "eyes" in the Torah? This reversal in order teaches us that the very act of seeing depends on our emotions. A person is not drawn to look at something unless his heart is attracted to it. This hidden attraction, and the concurrent desire to throw off the yoke of Heaven, is the real reason that the eyes look in places where they should not. It is only after the eyes have been drawn to the forbidden thing that the heart desires it in an open fashion.
(Sefer HaMaamarim 5711)
And you shall bring from the fruit of the earth (Num. 13:20)
To understand personal growth, one must bring an example from the fruit of the earth. First one sows the seed; only after the seed decomposes, and its essence is nullified can it grow and produce.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Only against the L-rd do not rebel... (Num. 14:9)
Why did Joshua and Caleb consider the spies' report and the people's reaction a rebellion? Because fearing giants and fortified cities shows a lack of belief in G-d; when one trusts in G-d there is no reason to fear man.
Zevulun, a wealthy Jewish merchant, lived in Babylonia. His son, Naftali, was gifted with a brilliant mind. When he became old enough, Zevulun sent him to Jerusalem to study under the guidance of one of the great sages of Israel.
Soon after Naftali began studying with the great scholar Rabbi Eliezer, misfortune befell his father in Babylonia. Rather than interrupt his son's studies, Zevulun used the strength and time he had left to settle his affairs. He made out his will in a manner worthy of a man of his wisdom and piety. He gave a large part to charitable institutions. The remaining possessions, gold, silver, jewels, estates, ships and merchandise, he left to his old slave, Samura. The only clause in the will was that Samura had to permit Naftali to select one object from all his possessions for himself.
After Zevulun's passing, his friends were shocked to find out the contents of the will. In vain they searched for the motive of Zevulun's disregard for his young son whom he had loved so much, and who was diligently studying Torah with his father's approval. This was certainly not the proper reward for the youth. While Naftali concentrated on his studies, ignorant of the double misfortune that had befallen him, the old slave Samura inherited Zevulun's wealth and property.
As for Samura, instead of living a life of extravagance and luxury with his newly acquired wealth, he spent his time making cautious investment and furtherance of the business.
One day, a man knocked at the door of Naftali's study. To his surprise, there stood a fellow Babylonian who gave him a letter. "I have been asked to wait for your signature and reply," he said.
Naftali opened the sealed message and was shaken when he read the news of his beloved father's passing. If his dear father was destined to die, at least he, his only son, could have made his last hours happier with his presence. "Why wasn't I notified?" he cried to himself. When Naftali recovered somewhat from the shock, he continued to read the long letter from his father's friend. Imagine his surprise when he found out about Zevulun's will. He cared not so much about the lost wealth, as he did about the possibility that he had precipitated such an estrangement from his father.
While he was mourning his double loss, his great teacher, Rabbi Eliezer, entered the room to comfort him. Silently, he sat down by the side of his heartbroken pupil. Naftali showed the great sage the letter.
Rabbi Eliezer took his time reading every word of the letter. Having finished, he put it aside and thought for a while. Then, to Naftali's surprise, a happy smile lit up the scholar's face, and his wise, old eyes beamed at his student.
"Blessed is G-d who gives wisdom and understanding to His servants," he exclaimed. "My son, be happy and joyful. Your father's love and care reaches even beyond the grave. Know that the very will which you thought had deprived you of your father's love and possessions, proves his infinite concern for you. In his wisdom, he protected and made safe his huge wealth for you."
Naftali did not immediately grasp what had given Rabbi Eliezer this idea. But when his teacher asked him to whom, according to Jewish law, belonged the possessions of a slave, Naftali understood. "To his master, of course," replied Naftali.
"During your absence, servants and managers might easily have done great harm to your inheritance," began Rabbi Eliezer. "Knowing Samura's capabilities and good character, your wise father made him temporary heir, so that he take proper care of the business until your return. Then, as provided by the clause in the will, you would choose the slave as the one object that you select for yourself. Automatically, all of Samura's possessions will be yours, according to the law."
Thirty days later, Naftali arrived in Babylonia and legally succeeded to the huge wealth of his father by selecting Samura as his inheritance. In appreciation of the good slave's services, he freed him and made him manager and adviser, with full powers to carry on, as if the business were his own. They remained good friends and successful business partners. Thus, Zevulun's wise will had, indeed, completely cared for and protected his beloved son beyond his grave.
This week's Haftorah concludes, "G-d gave the entire land into our hands and all the inhabitants of the land have melted [in fear] of us." This verse should serve as a directive for us at present. We should not return to the gentiles one inch of those portions of the Land of Israel that G-d has given us. And this resolve to maintain full possession of the Land will lead us to the era when the size of the Land will be increased and it will encompass the lands of the ten nations. We will proceed to the Holy Temple and offer the thanksgiving sacrifice in thanks for our redemption from exile. May this be in the immediate future.
(From a talk of the Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Shelach, 5751) (1991)