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Time. In many countries around the world, times are changing. That is to say, the time on the clock, at least. "Spring ahead, Fall back" we mutter to ourselves, in an attempt to remember whether we're "losing" or "gaining" an hour and which way to adjust our clocks to "standard time."
How long is a standard hour? Perhaps that depends on whether it's an hour that has stretched on endlessly or has passed by in the blink of an eye. Is it an hour that has been "blessed" and in which we have accomplished so much or is it an hour when everything that could have gone wrong went wrong and it was totally wasted.
When it comes to time, many of us think not only in terms of hours, minutes and seconds, but of "quality time" as well. And quality time is anything but standard, because it's usually time that we set aside to be with family, good friends, or in worthwhile and meaningful pursuits.
Is there such a thing as a "Jewish standard hour" or "Jewish quality time"?
In Talmudic times, a Jew whose performance of mitzvot was typified by going above and beyond the letter of the law was referred to as "chasid." These (pre-modern) Chasidim used to spend tremendous amounts of time in prayer and only a few hours a day in Torah study. But, the amount of Torah knowledge they gained in those few hours of study was inordinately greater than what the average person would have gained in the same amount of time spent in intensive study. The reward for their intensive prayer schedule was that the time spent studying Torah became "quality time" and their studies were blessed.
The mitzva of Torah study is incumbent upon us at all times. In fact, according to the Talmud, if a person wastes even one minute that he could have spent studying, it's as if he belittled the entire Torah. Yet, the Talmud also states that someone who is involved in helping the community has fulfilled the commandment to study Torah by simply saying one verse from the Shema in the morning and in the evening. Quality time!
In the Mishna (Avot) Rabbi Yaakov is quoted as saying that one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than the entire time one will live in the World to Come. What does this mean?
On the simplest level, Rabbi Yaakov is telling us that quality time counts. Through spending even just one hour in teshuva - returning to and reconnecting with G-d - and the performance of good deeds, we will appreciate awesome revelations of G-dliness in the Messianic Era. In fact, all the G-dliness we will experience in the times of Moshiach can be acquired through making every second and minute of a Jewish hour count here and now.
How do we accomplish this? The Hebrew word for hour, "sha-ah," also means bending. By bending ourselves in this world - not remaining rigid or stuck in our ways - and setting aside an hour regularly for teshuva and good deeds, we are adjusting our clocks to the ultimate standard time - the Messianic Era, may it commence now!
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, introduces us to the second of our forefathers, Isaac. It also relates that Isaac was occupied with digging wells.
Abraham and Isaac achieved greatness by paving two distinct paths in connecting with G-d. Abraham traveled from place to place, both within the borders of Israel and in other lands, and caused G-d's name to be known everywhere he went. Through his boundless hospitality, as well as through other means, he caused countless wayfarers to thank G-d for His bounty and goodness. Abraham's basic nature was kindness - giving and favorably influencing his fellow man.
Isaac, on the other hand, had a totally different approach. He never left the Holy Land and his basic nature was the personification of gevura (strength). Isaac's way of bringing holiness into the world involved elevating the lowly and bringing it closer to G-dliness; Abraham's method was to bring G-dliness down into the lower realms.
This path to spirituality is even apparent in Isaac's preoccupation with digging wells. A well is made when one digs and uncovers the water that was always there, albeit in an unrevealed state. Isaac did not bring the water to the well from an outside source; he merely removed the soil and rocks so that the water could flow forth on its own.
Whereas his father Abraham was primarily occupied with bringing holiness down into this world, Isaac spent his life uncovering the inherent holiness that already existed in the world. Isaac taught others that through their own efforts they could uncover the good and arrive at Divine truth.
From Abraham we learn how to elevate the physical world through studying Torah and performing mitzvot, causing the Divine light to descend and illuminate our surroundings. We also learn from him the obligation to spread the knowledge and appreciation of G-d through our own example and influence on others.
But this in itself is not enough. We must also learn from Isaac how to "dig wells" - how to uncover and reveal that spark of goodness and spirituality which exists within ourselves and every Jew. It is not sufficient to merely teach others about G-dliness; we must also know how to dig under the surface and reveal the "pintele Yid" - the inherent faith in G-d and spark of holiness - which is our birthright.
Even if a Jew seems to be "dust, clay and stones," that is, his Jewish spark seems to be dormant and hidden underground, we can learn from Isaac not be discouraged - this appearance is merely a camouflage. Under the lifeless surface lies a rich source of running water, of goodness, faith and love of G-d. All we have to do is remove the superficial layer of "clay" to reveal the pure Jewish soul within.
And what can we answer a Jew who cries, "But I've tried! I've dug and I've dug, and I can't seem to uncover my Jewish spark!" We must direct him to the example of Isaac, who persevered in his digging and was not discouraged, even when his wells were deliberately stopped up by his enemies, time and time again. For we are promised success if we, too, persevere and are relentless in our quest for G-dliness.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The following were written to the Prisons Department of the Lubavitch Youth Organization and were published in their bulletin to Jewish prisoners "Reaching Out."
Some years ago, I used to be a "guest" of BOP Waseca, in Minnesota. Not only were you kind enough to send me the Reaching Out bulletin every month and to write personal letters of encouragement to me, but you also sent me books, as well.
I am writing to tell you that I moved to Israel last year. My wife and I live in an apartment in the Shomron. We are struggling in order to adjust to this new life, but we know that soon all Jews will move here when Moshiach arrives.
I would like to ask for a favor. I would like to start getting issues of Reaching Out once more. Even though I am here in Israel, I can never forget the struggles of my fellow Jews in prison.
Yaakov - Israel
About a year and half ago, after spending 13 years in prison, I was on the verge of being released from prison. Yet, because of some bad choices I made, I got myself involved in a situation I had no business getting involved in. I took full responsibility for my involvement, and tried dealing with the setback of having to wait even longer to get out. As hard as it was, nothing prepared me for what I was about to deal with and have been dealing with for about seven months now.
In December, I started to have pains all over my body. I saw the prison doctor. They ran some blood tests and then I was sent to a specialist at the Iowa City Hospital.
The doctors informed me that I had two different types of lymphoma cancer. I was told that it might be only a matter of months before this cancer took its toll. Yet here I am, thank G-d, seven months later, and feeling rather well.
I spent over three months in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and recovering from those treatments. There have been many times I just felt like giving up. Every time I thought the worse was over, something else would come up that was even worse and harder for me to deal with. I really have been tested.
Although at times I felt like giving up, I didn't, thank G-d. While at the hospital I was lucky enough to have daily visits from Rabbi Blesofsky, emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Iowa City. Through his support and guidance and the support I was blessed to receive from friends, family, and yes, staff members here at the facility, I was able to keep my faith, stay strong and focused on getting well.
I have come to realize the following:
No matter where a Jew may be, G-d is always there with him. I truly believe that G-d only puts us through things we can handle. You would be surprised how much strength and will power each and every one of us has. What may seem as bad fate or a catastrophe in one's life, may truly be a blessing in disguise. It's up to the individual to work at uncovering that blessing.
Instead of letting this cancer, G-d forbid, get the best of me, I have chosen to use this cancer to become a better person and stronger in my faith. I pray each day, and every morning that I am able to recite the "Modeh Ani" is truly a blessing and a gift. I try to cherish each day and make the most of it.
To all fellow Jews who are unfortunately incarcerated, from someone who has been dealing with being locked up for over 14 years and having to deal with a life threatening illness, I beg of you to stay strong and cherish life which is truly a blessing. And believe me, G-d has many great things in store for all of us. Don't ever lose your hope and faith!
Pinny - Anamosa State Penitentiary, Iowa
Shalom My Friends and Family,
On Aug. 12 Chaplain Brown notified me that I had been denied religious participation in the Kosher Diet Program at this facility. When I inquired why, she told me, "The answers to the written test weren't good enough." It will take about a year until I can retake the test!
I am totally at a loss. I do not know how to fight a system this large and complex. The Food Service Director at this facility regularly discriminates against Jewish female prisoners. She views the kosher food as "expensive." She regularly harasses Jewish prisoners by denying access to kosher meals or holiday observances like Chanuka and Passover.
Ironically, the religious requirements for Muslims at this facility are followed without any difficulty. During the month-long Ramadan fasting they have together the celebration festive meal. Only Jewish prisoners are expected to "pass a test" to prove that they are Jewish, while Muslim prisoners are not required to pass any tests.
I need your assistance desperately to fight the discrimination around me. Please help the Jewish Women prisoners at this facility.
Diane - Robert Scott CF - Plymouth, MI
Thursday night something wonderful happened. Rabbi Rapaport appeared like a "mirage" out of nowhere and came right up to the unit to see me. Never mind that it is a miracle by itself but he also handed me tzitzit. He also brought the book that Menachem and I wanted to study together and the beautiful calendar.
Thank you very much for sending these through Rabbi Rapaport. I am not a person who gets mushy, but you have touched my heart by sending these.
You have no idea how great I feel that not only can I put on tefilin every day and pray, I can also wear my tzitzit. Maybe, just maybe, I can look myself in the mirror again, and not just see the old "con man" I always see, but a Jewish person instead.
Rabbi Rapaport is working very hard under very difficult circumstances here and he creates small and large miracles for us every week. I acknowledge the fact that G-d works in mysterious ways and leave it at that.
Yehuda - South Woods State Prison, NJ
New Emissary Couples
This fall, nearly a dozen young couples have moved to cities throughout the United States as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to open new Chabad-Lubavitch Centers or to strengthen existing programs. Among them are: two Chabad on Campus programs, one at Florida International University under Rabbi Levi and Sashi Friedman and the second at the University of Washington under Rabbi Elie and Chaya Rochel Estrin; two new centers in California, one in Oceanside under Rabbi Baruch and Nechama Greenberg and the second in S. Clemente under Rabbi Mendel and Tzippy Slavin; three young couples arrived in Texas to strengthen the existing educational programs there, Rabbi Peretz and Michal Shapiro and Rabbi Zvi and Aidy Drizin in Dallas and Rabbi Chaim Boruch and Sara Alevsky in Plano.
27th of Elul, 5743 
Greeting and Blessing;
Your letter was received with some delay, and because of the urgency of the matter, my reply was conveyed to you over the telephone.
Here I will reiterate in writing, at least one point, based on what I heard from my father-in-law of saintly memory. It is that in regard to any child's education, especially in regard to a Jewish child, it should be borne in mind that if he will not be absorbed in a Kosher educational institution immediately, the opportunity may be lost altogether, and it becomes a matter of spiritual Pikuach Nefesh [danger to one's life]. On the other hand, the problem of financial capacity of the institution, although it may be difficult, could in time be resolved if the proper effort is made. The principle is similar and familiar also in the business world, and there is no need to elaborate on it, especially to you, knowing your dedication to Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general, and Torah education in particular,
On the occasion of the birth of your granddaughter, I extend to you and all the family a hearty Mazel Tov, and prayerful wishes to have true Yiddish Nachas [Jewish pride] from each and all of your offspring....
19th of Shevat, 5744 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter of Jan. 12th, with enclosure.
As requested, I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in the matter about which you wrote.
There is surely no need to emphasize to you at length that all blessings come from G-d, and the channel to receive them is through the everyday life and conduct in accordance with His Will. Therefore, every additional effort in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], though a "must" for their own sake, widens these channels.
In your situation, it is particularly important to be extra careful in the Kashrus of foods and beverages, within the general framework of adherence to the Jewish way of Torah and Mitzvoth.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all Above.
P.S. Many thanks for your card and good wishes of Jan. 4th, with enclosure. May the zechus [merit] of your tzedoko [charity], for which receipt in enclosed, bring you and yours additional Divine blessings in all needs.
9th of Adar, 5739 
Neshei U'Bnos Chabad
- G-d Bless You All -
Blessing and Greeting:
I acknowledge, with an apology for the unavoidable delay, your telegram, and I am gratified to note your commitment in every way possible to spread Yiddishkeit, etc.
Since we have the assurance that when a Jew makes a firm resolution to do a good thing, G-d opens special channels and capacities to carry it out fully, may this be so also in regard to your pledge. Of course, this implies G-d's assured blessings for peace of mind and good health, with no problems, to be able to accomplish what must be without distractions and in a growing measure.
I was greatly impressed with the report on the Second European Convention, including the speeches, photographs, etc. Since you have such good material, it would be well to consider the idea of publishing it, with appropriate supplementary material, at the earliest possible date, in the form of a Pictorial Report or Album of the Convention.
Needless to say, it should be attractive not only in content, but also in external appearance, artistic design, etc. Such a publication would undoubtedly generate considerable interest among those who personally participated in the Convention, for whom it would be a lasting momento and a decorative volume to have on the bookshelf, and it would also be of interest to many who did not participate in the Convention.
I do not know if such pictorial reports are customary in England. But Chabad/ Lubavitch does not hesitate to make "innovations" and pioneer in activities designed to promote Yiddishkeit.
Needless to add, the above project, even any title mentioned above, is only a suggestion, and it is entirely up to you to make final decisions and changes that may make it more effective in achieving the central objective of promoting the activities of the Neshei for strengthening and spreading Yiddishkeit.
With prayerful wishes for Hatzlocho...
17 Cheshvan, 5765 - November 1, 2004
Positive Mitzvah 19: Grace after Meals
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 8:10) "When you have eaten and are satisfied then you must bless G-d" The Torah commands us to thank G-d after every meal.
Positive Mitzvah 215: Circumcision
This mitzva is based on the verse (Gen. 17:10) "Every male child among you shall be circumcised" G-d commanded that all Jewish males be circumcised. Circumcision is called a brit, a covenant, connecting our people G-d. Through our performance of this mitzva, we establish this bond with G-d.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The twentieth of Cheshvan, this year corresponding to Thursday, November 4, is the birthday of the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Sholom Dovber.
The Rebbe Rashab, born 144 years ago, was the fifth leader of Chabad/Lubavitch.
The Rebbe Rashab was universally known for his steadfast defense of Torah true Judaism in Czarist Russia and for his establishment of the Lubavitcher Yeshivah, Tomchei Tmimim, in the town of Lubavitch in 1897. The Rebbe Rashab also worked diligently to implement the virtue of Ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew) among all Jews. On the holiday of Simchat Torah, in 1898, the Rebbe Rashab recited a Chasidic discourse entitled "Heichaltzu," literally meaning "arm yourselves." The discourse delves primarily into the spiritual roots of baseless hatred. However, the essence of the discourse was to foster love and unity among all Jews.
The Rebbe Rashab states in the discourse: "One must assume that the other person is good in every respect. One should not view others in terms of one's own [experience], for one must judge every man positively and firmly believe he is surely better than oneself. Hence, one ought to be deeply distressed by the suffering of one's fellow..."
In the merit of the Rebbe Rashab let us all do our utmost to abolish senseless hatred and foster true, unblemished love for our fellow Jews, which is certainly the precursor to the final redemption, the coming of Moshiach Tzidkaynu, speedily in our days, NOW.
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him. (Gen. 18:19)
Rashi comments that the phrase "For I know him" implies love and affection for Abraham. G-d loved Abraham because He knew that Abraham would teach his children to follow in his footsteps. As great and impressive as Abraham's worship of G-d was, more worthy of merit was the fact that he could be counted on to instruct others.
To do righteousness and justice (Gen. 18:19)
When G-d bestows wealth and abundance on a Jew, he must honestly judge himself and ask: "Am I really worthy of all this goodness? What have I done to deserve these blessings?" When a person is thus honest with himself, it will cause him to realize that the sharing of his wealth with those less fortunate is truly tzedaka - righteousness.
In all that Sara may say to you - hearken unto her voice (Gen. 21:12)
The Talmud states: Three tzadikim were given a taste of the World to Come in this world - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the World to Come, the prophecy - "the female will surround and encompass the male," and "a woman of valor is the crown of her husband" (Proverbs) will be fulfilled. Abraham was given a glimpse of this when G-d told him to heed the words of Sara, who was an even greater prophet than he.
G-d appeared to him (Gen. 18:1)
Rashi explains that the entire reason for G-d's appearing to Avraham was for the purpose of "visiting the sick." From here we learn the greatness of the mitzva of visiting the sick.
In a small corner of the vast expanse of Russia there lived a Jewish innkeeper. In appearance, there was nothing special about him. He dressed like a peasant and spoke like a peasant. But this simple, earthy man was admired and respected by villagers all over his district. It was known to one and all that he was in reality a holy man, a miracle worker. Whomever he blessed, was sure that the blessing would be fulfilled.
So, after a time, the reputation of the innkeeper wonder-worker spread, until word of him reached the Rebbe of Apta, who then lived in Mezibuzh. The Rebbe became curious to meet this man and learn his secret. If the man was, indeed, as simple as they all said, then whence his mystical power?
The Apter Rebbe harnessed his horses and went to the tavern. When he arrived, he looked the tavern-keeper up and down, but could perceive no nuance of greatness in him. He studied his movements, but saw nothing remarkable in anything the innkeeper did. Finally, the Rebbe approached the man and questioned him, "Tell me, please, from where are your special powers? Why does Heaven grant all of your blessings?"
The man smiled, and replied straightforwardly, "My powers come from my faith in G-d which is as strong as a mighty oak.
"Since my youth, I have always trusted in G-d, and no matter what ever happened to me I was always certain that it would be ultimately for the best, since it came from G-d. I never despaired and I always gave charity generously, particularly when times were tough.
"As for guests, I have always kept an open house and treated passersby with the greatest hospitality."
The innkeeper paused and then continued. "One night, when I had a house full of guests, there came a knock at my door. It was a messenger from the poretz (landowner) saying that I was to appear before him at once or else he would have me thrown into prison.
"Now, I had a problem, for I had a lot of hungry people to feed. If I left at once, they would probably go to bed hungry. I stayed and took care of my guests, putting my trust in G-d that no harm would come to me.
"Only hours later, after my guests were comfortably in their rooms did I venture out to meet my landlord. When I arrived, he was brimming with goodwill; apparently he had had a change of heart. Not only didn't he throw me into jail, but he greeted me like an old friend. Everything worked out all right.
"Whenever I put my trust in G-d, I have nothing to worry about. Two years ago I lost all my money. I had no trouble maintaining my faith, but it was a different thing for my family. They were desperate and begged me to go and find a partner. They could see no other solution.
"This was against my own ideas. Why should I suddenly begin to rely on flesh and blood when all my life I had trusted only in G-d, and He had never let me down? In the end, I couldn't hold out against them, and so, I set out to find a business partner.
"I walked through the green countryside that was bursting with G-d's goodness and bounty, red apples here, luscious grapes to the other side, contented cows grazing lazily, and I stopped in my tracks. My heart was almost bursting with my love of G-d, and my trust in Him had never been greater. Could not the One Who created all of the beautiful greenery and sustained it eternally also care for me and my little family? Why was I seeking out some human being to lift me up from all my troubles. I raised my eyes to the heavens and prayed, 'G-d, You are the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, please grant my prayer. I have lost all my money, and I cannot operate my inn. My family tells me to get myself a partner, a mere mortal of flesh and blood. Why can't You become my partner? We'll split everything down the middle. Your half, I'll distribute to the poor, and my half, I'll use to support my family.
"No sooner had I finished, when I felt something in my pocket. I reached for it, and to my astonishment it was a silver coin of such value that I had never owned one like it. And I knew that G-d had accepted my proposition; we were partners, and this was the first profit.
"With this coin I replenished my stock and resumed my trade. When the first profits came in, I put one half aside for my 'partner' in a box that I keep behind the counter. I am scrupulously careful with these funds, even more so than with my own money. This is my whole story."
The Apter Rebbe, who had been listening with rapt attention, rose, thanked the tavern-keeper, and left. When he returned to his own shul in Mezibuzh he told the entire story to his Chasidim, and concluded "When one enters a partnership with G-d, and is completely honest in his business dealings, G-d enables him to perform wonders."
G-d has sent us into exile, and it is He who will redeem us and gather in the dispersed of Israel from the four corners of the earth, and cause us to be led back firmly and proudly by Moshiach - may this occur speedily, in our times. This, however, all the nations of the world must know: Only our bodies were sent into exile and subjugated to alien rule; our souls, however, were not given over into captivity and foreign rule. Any matter affecting the Jewish religion, Torah, and its mitzvot and customs is not subject to the coercion of others. No one can impose his belief upon us, nor coerce us to conduct ourselves contrary to our beliefs...
(The Rebbe Rashab, 1927)