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There's a children's story about stone soup. Amongst the many variations of the tale, one concerns an old lady who lived a lonely life on a small farm. Rumor had it she was rather miserly, which was why she was lonely. A clever but poor young man arrived in the village. He went to the old lady and asked for something to eat. She said she had nothing to give him. He then asked if he might have a stone from her yard. Surprised, she asked why and he told her he wanted to make soup.
The old lady had never heard of making soup from a stone. Intrigued, she asked him to make some for her. He filled a pot with water, put it over the fire, and dropped in the stone. As they waited for the "stone soup" to cook, he told her it would taste better with some onions. Off she went to get onions from her garden. While there, she decided to bring some carrots and potatoes, too. One by one they added more ingredients to the stone soup.
When the soup was finished, they sat down to a delicious meal. The old lady was so pleased, she decided to pay the young man generously for his recipe. The young man went on his way, no longer poor or hungry. The old lady went into the village to share this marvelous recipe. The women of the village loved the taste of the stone soup. No longer did people think the old lady was miserly, nor was she lonely anymore.
In science, the stone would be called a catalyst - something that causes a change in others, but itself remains unchanged. In the children's story, the stone changed the young man and the old lady; he went from being poor and hungry to being well-off and well-fed; she went from being miserly and lonely to being generous and well-liked.
But the stone remained a stone.
Judaism has its own version of "stone soup." It's called prayer.
You see, the words of prayer don't change. They were set in place 2,500 years ago, by the Men of the Great Assembly who established the order and wording of the prayers.
Sometimes when we pray, the words feel like stones - heavy, inert, lifeless, void of energy or meaning. But the dullness and indifference we feel reflects the state of our hearts and says nothing about the words themselves.
Chasidic philosophy explains how the Ten Utterances (the 10 "Let there be..." expressions in Genesis) invest the Divine life force within even inanimate objects. Stones exist because they contain the words of G-d. Therefore, they can not truly be lifeless or void of energy.
The prayer service was organized to maximize the catalytic effect of the words. The Sages, with mystical and prophetic insight, knew that if one brought the "other ingredients" - contemplation on the greatness of G-d, attention to the words being said, understanding the words, longing for G-dliness - then the "stone" - the words of prayer - could, and would, transform us.
The words of prayer do not change. They are not affected by what we put into them, but what we try to make of them affects us. For to change ourselves - to be spiritually elevated and transformed - we need these "stones."
Whether we begin like the young man, poor in Jewish knowledge and hungry for Torah, or like the old lady, lacking in charitableness and without a true sense of our place in the Jewish community, prayer is the catalyst that can transform us.
This week's Torah reading, Behaalotcha, describes the preparations for, and initial stages of, the journey of the Jews through the desert after having camped at Sinai for more than a year.
At Mount Sinai, the Jews received the Torah and soon after constructed the Sanctuary there. Yet, our people did not remain content with having achieved these spiritual heights. Rather than staying in the desert where G-d provided for all their needs, they set out on a mission - to journey to Israel.
The desert is barren and desolate. Yet as the Jews traveled through the desert, they transformed it, albeit temporarily, into a settled land, a place where crops, trees, and even flowers grew. For the Jews did not travel empty-handed. With them, they took the Torah that they had been given and the Sanctuary that they had constructed. G-d's presence, which rested within the Sanctuary, and which is given expression in our lives, brought about these positive changes in the surroundings in which they lived.
The Baal Shem Tov explains that the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert are reflected in the journeys of every individual through life. Some of the phases that we pass through may appear barren and desolate. Nevertheless, we must appreciate that this is only the external setting in which we are placed. It should not reflect our inner state - for G-d's presence accompanies us at all times and the Torah is with us in all surroundings.
In a similar vein, the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert also allude to the journeys of our people through the ages toward the Messianic Era. Accordingly, throughout history the Jews have wandered from country to country pursuing the Divine mission of revealing the sparks of holiness everywhere by utilizing physicality in fulfilling the Torah's commandments.
To explain this motif: Our Sages state that G-d exiled the Jewish people in order that converts should be enabled to join them. In addition to the simple meaning of this statement, Jewish mysticism expands the meaning of the word "convert" to refer not only to individuals who accept Judaism, but also to the sparks of the G-dly life-force which are hidden within the world's material substance.
When a Jew uses an object for a mitzvah, he or she releases these hidden sparks of G-dliness and enables them to be overtly revealed. So from land to land have our people wandered, completing phase after phase of this mission.
In the process of doing so, they have made "the desert blossom." They have endowed the world with spiritual meaning and purpose, pushing it toward the culmination of this process; Moshiach's coming, when the G-dliness that pervades our existence will be manifest and apparent.
From Keeping In Touch (published by S.I.E) by Rabbi E. Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Stephanie Klorman
Eds. note: Shabbat 1000 was conceived ten years ago by Rivka Slonin, co-director of Chabad of Binghamton (New York). It is now celebrated on college campuses nationwide. Shabbat 1000 brings together 1,000 Jewish students once each year for a Shabbat dinner on campus.
As the students streamed from the Old Union down the hill to the East Gym, a buzz was in the air. For many, this Friday night, April 8th, was their first Shabbat dinner while for others the experience was made more special by the 1000 students they were to share this holy night with. Shabbat 1000 had arrived and the crowd was immense.
Whether the students were freshmen, seniors, or alumni, the electric atmosphere only added to the Shabbat meal. Seated at tables of ten or twelve, friends, sororities, fraternities and clubs sponsored tables in hope of reaching the goal of 1000 Jewish students celebrating Shabbat.
It is hard to imagine a room filled with 1000 Jewish people, especially students. For many, including myself, I could not picture it if I tried, that is, until I experienced my first Shabbat 1000 four years ago. At a weekly Shabbat dinner at Chabad House, the meal may be shared with 250 students, so to quadruple that number is impressive and mind-boggling.
I was lucky enough to spend my Binghamton was still a new place and for many, the idea of Shabbat was still foreign. I especially felt the need to reminisce as an important time in my life is coming to a close.
New to keeping the Sabbath, my Shabbat experiences began at Chabad. Whether it was with the large crowd on Friday night or the more intimate meal on Saturday afternoon, in many ways, they all paled in comparison to this one night 1000 Jews eating and singing together, welcoming in the Sabbath.
Now, as the weeks before graduation are closing in, I have become reflective on my time spent at Binghamton, particularly the Shabbats I spent on campus and now, since I live on the west-side, downtown with my housemates. I cannot count how many plates of chicken or kugel I have carried, or how many bottles of soda I have put away, but I can say with the utmost confidence, that all of these times made me appreciate Shabbat 1000.
Shabbat 1000 is a special night for which students spend the days prior preparing in the kitchen and all day Friday setting up in the gym. It is hard work, but satisfying and enjoyable work. One knows that when they have finished their job with Chabad, it is something to be proud of. No one truly understands what goes into creating the Friday night meal until it is personally experienced.
The night's entertainment was also impressive as "613," a Jewish a cappella group founded by Binghamton alumni, and Kaskeset, the Jewish a cappella group on campus serenaded the crowd throughout dinner. The a cappella performance only added to the electric atmosphere the students created around them.
It was obvious that everyone in the room was excited to be there and that Shabbat 1000 was something special. There are not many times throughout the year where there is anything close to this huge gathering of Jewish students socializing, so everyone took advantage of the scene and enjoyed it to the fullest. It was an unforgettable evening, a Binghamton tradition I am will continue on for many more years, growing always stronger.
Reprinted with permission from the Chai Times, published by the Chabad House Jewish Student Center, Binghamton, NY.
Pirkei Avot-Ethics of the Fathers
With a lucid English translation and insight-laden commentaries, this new edition of Pirkei Avot is an ideal companion for the Mishna known as Pirkei Avot, customarily studied on Shabbat afternoons from Passover through Rosh Hashana. Commentaries include classic commentators, as well as insights adapted from the teachings of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes. Compiled by Rabbi Yosef Marcus, published by Kehot Publications
Gutnick Chumash Bamidbar
The eagerly awaited final volume of the Gutnick Chumash (Torah), Bamidbar, is now available. Rapidly becoming one of the most popular Chumashim around, the Gutnick Chumash is acclaimed for its clear English translation, fascinating commentaries and practical wisdom based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. With full Hebrew text, including Rashi and Onkelos. Great for those wishing to study Chumash seriously. Prepared by Rabbi Chaim Miller, published by Kol Menachem.
A two volume treasury of over 200 heartwarming Chasidic tales. This beautiful collection of stories of Chasidic wisdom and never before published tales promises a truly enriching reading experience. Intended to entertain and educate, this, uplifting volume opens a window into the Chassidic world, presenting profound messages, valuable insights and eternal values in a most inviting and delightful manner.
Cheshvan 22, 5738 (1978)
... Perhaps you are already aware of what I spoke about on Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Lech Lecha regarding the absolute need to populate the entire territories, all at once. At the very least, Israel should settle those areas upon which there is dispute. In my opinion it is clear that the only way that the enemies of Israel will finally give up their evil designs will be when they see that Israel means this seriously. As I have stated many times, even those who are afraid of the nations' objections, have seen in the past - and continue to see - the complaints remain just as strong no matter if Israel settles one place, or the entire border.
To my great consternation, it would seem that Israel is not even considering this minimal plan which I have mentioned. They have decided to behave in the same fashion as they always have in the past, whenever there has been a victory - and each victory has transcended the bounds of nature. This is true regarding the period after the Yom Kippur War, the Six Day War, the Sinai Campaign, etc. Each time, they decided to do "half a job" - or more properly, they consented to accept only half of what was being given to them as a gift from Above - namely, victory - and they did not act decisively, with the greatest forcefulness - to finish the issue once and for all. Clearly, this itself only invites pressure. As if this was not enough, they sent a delegation of representatives to inform the nations that they would not take full advantage of the victory, but rather, would give up an important part of that which they had already attained. Everyone sees the outcome: not only did they not achieve peace, but they brought about the opposite - terrorism, harassment, and eventually war, may G-d save us. As I mentioned, they have repeated this strategy more than three times.
I am not aware whether your orientation is what they call "hawkish" or "dovish." But regarding this, after everyone has seen the results of such behavior after all the past wars; the today's pressure and threats seem to be the outcome. In my opinion, there is no difference between a hawk or a dove.
The issue is only whether a decision will be made to continue in the same way they have until now, for whatever various strange reasons. Then they will continue to delude themselves and their followers with empty hopes - that even though nothing has changed, but still, maybe this time the outcome will be the opposite. The only alternative is to at least try a different method - the one which most appeals to sound judgment, and the one which all past experience proves is worthwhile trying.
If this is also your opinion, then surely you - who live in the Holy Land and are aware of the situation up close - will make the loudest commotion, since many, many circles follow you and will perhaps listen to you. Even though it would have been preferable to build these settlements immediately, along with the first one which was established, nevertheless, it is better to do it now, late, than to continue taking two steps back, and then one step forward. I deliberately changed the order, because unfortunately the politicians are even afraid of the method of taking one step forward, and then two steps back.
May it be G-d's Will that there should finally be the fulfillment of the verse "and the earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d, as the water covers the ocean bed," and the immediate result will be the evaporation of all the fear of "what will the nations say," or concern whether they will favor this or that policy - until the Jewish fear of "the sound of a driven leaf," (lest the leaf was moved by wind from the nostrils of a non-Jew) is dispelled. G-d will help His nation to walk upright, with the proper forcefulness.
This letter, and the letter in L'Chaim issues 871 and 872 were translated by Mordechai E. Sones and Yankel Koncepolski and reprinted from www.TruePeace.org
10 Sivan, 5765 - June 17, 2005
Prohibition 299: It is forbidden to offer misleading advice
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:14) "Nor shall you put a stumbling block before the blind" Blind, here, applies to one who is "blind," i.e., "unknowing" in certain matters. The Torah cautions us never to cause another person to suffer because of bad advice or instructions that we give them. We must be careful and try to guide the person correctly and properly.
Prohibition 270: It is forbidden to refrain from helping a person in need of assistance
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 23:5) "You shall not refrain from helping him." Helping a person in time of need is not just an act of kindness, it is also a commandment. If we see a person or an animal in need of assistance, we must help him.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, we read about the daily lighting of the seven-branched golden candelabra in the Sanctuary by Aaron the High Priest.
King Solomon writes: "The soul of man is the lamp of G-d." Just as a flame rises constantly upwards so man's soul is constantly seeking to rise higher. Aaron's lighting of the Menorah symbolized the task of all Jews, to "light up" the souls of the Jews.
Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch was once asked: "What is a Chasid?" and he replied, "A Chasid is a 'street-lamplighter.'" In Rabbi Sholom Ber's days, a street-lamp lighter kindled each street lamp by hand. The lamps were there in readiness, but they needed to be lit. Rabbi Sholom Ber implied that a Chasid is one who goes out into the street, finds the lamps - Jewish souls - that need to be lit, and carefully and gently kindles them with he beauty, warmth and light of Torah and mitzvot.
Every Jew can be, and in essence is, a street-lamp lighter. Every Jew is obligated to search out other Jews whose souls remain ready but are not yet ignited with the fire of Judaism. And certainly, in his so doing, nothing will be detracted from the "streets lamp lighter's" own flame. For, as we all surely know, lighting one candle from another does not diminish the flame of the first. Rather, when two flames burn together they burn even stronger with less of a chance that one will be extinguished.
Let us go from flame to flame until the entire Jewish menora will be proudly lighted and together illuminate the darkness of the night of exile.
When you light the lamps...(Num. 8:2)
This verse starts with the word "behaalotcha" which is translated as "when you light" but which literally means literally means, "when you raise up." The foremost commentator Rashi explains that one must kindle the light until the flame "goes up" by itself. On this explanation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe: When one lights up the soul of another Jew and brings them closer to their heritage, one must do it in such a way that the person can keep the flame going by himself, and no longer needs the influence of the "lighter."
Although this command was given to Aaron the Priest concerning the lights of the Sanctuary specifically, it is applicable to every single Jew. Every person is responsible to involve him/herself in the work of "lighting" up the soul of other Jews.
And the man Moses was very humble, more than all the men upon the face of the earth (Num. 12:3)
Moses assumed this humility when he compared himself to the souls of our generation. In comparison to Moses' grasp of G-dliness, our comprehension is totally insignificant. However, Moses saw the many obstacles and impediments, oppression and persecutions that the Jewish people would face regarding the performance of Torah and its commandments, and nevertheless, he saw how our generation will perform Torah and mitzvot with self-sacrifice, with strong trust in G-d, and with simple faith. This impressed Moses greatly, and he was humbled.
(Sefer HaMaamarim-Kuntreisim and Sefer HaMaamarim-Meluket)
Once there lived in the Land of Israel a very wealthy Jew. Upon his death, he passed on to his wife all of his great wealth. The widow decided to leave her city in search of a place with less memories. Her main concern before going on her journey, was to find a place where she could safely leave her vast inheritance.
She came upon the idea of hiding her gold coins in earthen containers, which she filled with honey. She then asked one of her late husband's close friends if he would watch over her jars of honey while she was away. The friend was happy to oblige.
Months passed. One day, the friend was preparing a festive meal for his son's forthcoming marriage and they had run out of honey. The friend remembered the honey which had been left in his safekeeping by the widow. "Certainly there can be no harm in my borrowing some of the honey," the friend conjectured. "I will replace it tomorrow," he assured himself.
Imagine the friend's surprise when he dipped a large spoon deep into the honey and it came out with two gold coins stuck to it. Again and again the friend dipped the spoon into the honey, and each time it came up with a small fortune. "No one but the widow and myself know that there is money in these earthen jars," thought the friend. And with that, he emptied the jars of all the gold. The next day he quickly refilled the jars to the very top with the sweet, golden syrup.
A few weeks passed and the widow returned to her home town. She had found a suitable home in a different village where she was certain she would be able to start a new life for herself. When she asked her husband's friend for the honey jars back he was only too happy to return them to her. She thanked him for having "guarded" them for her all this time.
The widow hurried home with the jars and, once inside, set out to retrieve the gold coins she had placed there months before. At first, she did not become alarmed when the spoon came up empty. But as the minutes passed, and she did not come up with one gold coin, she became hysterical. She took each jar to the back of the house and poured out the honey. She searched inside the jars but found nothing.
Beside herself with grief, the widow ran to the "friend's" house, only to find that he denied any knowledge of the gold coins. "You left jars of honey in my care and I have returned the exact jars of honey that you gave me."
The widow had no choice but to take him to court. The judge, however, noting that there had been no witnesses to the widow's claims that she had put gold in the jars, could not come to a verdict. He sent the case to a higher court, which eventually referred it to King Saul, himself. King Saul, however, also had no clue as to how to decide the case.
While on a walk in the countryside, the widow began to sob bitterly. A young shepherd noticed her bent and broken figure, and approached to offer his assistance. The widow smiled at this innocent lad, and told him her sad story.
"I have an idea that might help prove that the jars were filled with gold," said young David. "Go to King Saul, and tell him that David, son of Jesse, would like to come to his court and to help settle this matter."
The widow was touched at the young boy's sincerity. "My dear child," she said, "I have been sent to the King by the highest court in Israel, for they could not reach a decision. How, then, do you think that you will be able to help me?"
"Certainly G-d will help you. Just maybe, that help is meant to come through a young, simple shepherd such as I," David replied. The woman went to King Saul with David's request.
King Saul was intrigued with the young boy's offer and invited him to come to the court. The `friend' was also summoned to the court. Over and over, the thief swore on all that was holy that he had returned the exact same jars that he had been given.
"What do you say about this, my son?" asked King Saul to the young shepherd.
David asked that one of the jars be brought to him and in this way he would be able to prove the truth in the widow's words. David lifted the jar above his head and smashed it against the floor. He then carefully inspected the shards of pottery that were at his feet. Triumphantly, he help up one piece of the jar and waved it in the air. Stuck to the pottery was a gold coin that had been overlooked by the thief, and the widow.
The thief's evil deed had now been proven. All of Israel heard of the wisdom of the young shepherd, David, who later became one of the greatest kings of the Jewish people.
Three times each day, in the "Amida" prayer, we pray: "Speedily cause the offspring of Your servant David to flourish and enhance his power through Your salvation, because we hope for Your salvation all the day..." Indeed, is hoping that G-d redeem us sufficient reason to be redeemed? The Chida explains that if, for whatever reason, we lack merits, we pray that G-d send Moshiach "because we hope for Your salvation," i.e., because we have hope, we deserve to be redeemed.