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Imagine a brilliant teacher, a professor of world renowned profundity, whose writings require advanced degrees to comprehend. This teacher is working in his office, analyzing, thinking, delving into the deepest thoughts.
Just outside his door at the university is the janitor, mopping the hallway. The janitor is a simple man, without a "higher" education. He wouldn't understand the basics of the professor's field; an advanced degree for him isn't even a question. For him to have any inkling of what the professor is studying is utterly inconceivable.
Obviously, the professor and the janitor have no connection. The thoughts of one operate in a different dimension than the thoughts of the other.
But then the professor, hearing the janitor outside his door, asks if the janitor would please bring him a drink of water. And at that moment, a connection is begun, the lines of communication are open and a relationship becomes possible.
The teacher doesn't necessarily need the water. He is not particularly thirsty. He just wants a drink. Such a request comes not from logic but an exertion of his will. It's a desire, and a desire, the inner urge of the soul, defies reason.
Now if the janitor brings the professor a glass of water, the connection is made and the relationship established.
Our tradition uses analogies to help us understand how G-dliness works and how we can have a connection with the Infinite Source of our being. The previous analogy has been developed at length by Chasidic philosophy to serve as a motif of connection.
Chasidic philosophy uses this analogy to explain how we, as finite human beings, connect with the Infinite G-d, only the difference between us and Him is vastly, immeasurably, infinitely greater than the distance between the professor and the janitor.
G-d asks us to perform mitzvot (commandments). And when we do, when we fulfill His will, not because it makes sense, not because there's a reason, not even because we accomplish something, but simply because He asks, because He wants us to do that action, then, and only then, do we establish a relationship.
Indeed, the word "mitzva" means not just "commandment," but "connection." When we respond to the command, we connect.
But there's one last point: Let's go back to our analogy. If the teacher asks for a glass of water, but is brought soda, beer, or even orange juice, not to mention ice cream or cake (what if he has a sugar problem?), his request is not being fulfilled. The connection isn't there. Because the only way to make that connection is to fulfill the request, to do what is asked, not what the janitor thinks.
And the same is true with mitzvot. There's a right way to do them, the way that will fulfill G-d's request, detailed for us in the Code of Jewish Law. And that's how we connect with G-d.
In the Torah portion of Re'ei, the Holy Temple is referred to as "the site that G-d will choose for His name to rest there."
The Holy Temple was a successor to the Tabernacle that the Jews travelled with as they wandered through the desert, and, as such, was to be similar to it in all important details. However, while the Tabernacle was always set up on a level surface, the Holy Temple was built on a slope with steps leading from level to level.
The Tabernacle was a temporary edifice and moved from place to place, while Temple was to stand forever on a fixed site. This meant that the sanctity of the Holy Temple extended to the actual physical site - "the site that G-d will choose." As a result, the different levels of sanctity within it were reflected in its different elevations - the more sacred, the loftier the location.
Yet within the Holy Temple itself, the Holy and the Holy of Holies were on the same plane. One would have expected a marked difference in height, reflecting the greater sanctity of the Holy of Holies.
However, the notion that a more holy spot will be marked by a higher physical elevation than a less holy one applies only when the degrees of sanctity involved are comparable. When a spot's sanctity is incomparably higher than any other's, it defies the very concept of "higher" and "lower," and any difference in physical height cannot serve as an indicator of its holiness.
The Holy of Holies, was that place wherein the unlimited essence of G-dliness was revealed. Whereas all the other parts of the Beis HaMikdash could be compared to each other as to their degree of holiness, the Holy of Holies was of an infinitely greater degree of holiness than any other part - exalted far beyond the confines of "higher" and "lower."
This discussion also applies when considering the various levels of sanctity in the spiritual Holy Temple that resides within each and every individual Jew and with regard to the various levels of holiness we achieve in our spiritual quest.
Under ordinary circumstances, whenever a person desires to attain a higher spiritual level, it is incumbent upon him to "climb the steps" and elevate himself through his spiritual service.
But when a person seeks to attain the highest of levels - the Holy of Holies - he must abandon all awareness of "self" or "seeking" and attain a state in which everything exists for him in a state of "absolute equality."
When a person attains this state, he is in touch with his soul's essence - a level beyond the very concepts of "higher" and "lower," and on which he is completely nullified before G-d's will. Such a person has attained the Holy of Holies.
Adapted by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIX, reprinted from the Chassidic Dimension
A Jewish Face to the World
by Geoffrey Zygier
Being a Jew is a holistic experience - whether at work, play, eating, chatting or even sleeping. Early in my Jewish journey, an acquaintance farther down the path of Torah knowledge and mitzva observance, who already wore a kipa and tzitzit publicly, mentioned that he could never eat in a non-kosher restaurant. While he was still not completely ready to keep kosher, he could not consider "letting down the team" by eating non-kosher in public. Thus the face we present to the world is a remarkably effective tool in regulating our behavior.
Many like me who did not grow up in religious homes but became observant later in life, find that affecting a significantly different look, one that reveals the emerging Jew, can be a very challenging test.
I know this from personal experience. Some ten years ago, I commenced wearing a kipa and tzitzit beyond the safety of my home and shul. On one level, this was no big deal. After eight years of gradually increasing involvement in Jewish observance, I had reached a certain level in my Judaism: the point where it became necessary that I change my outer self to reflect my internal transformation. In one sense this was merely the next rung on the ladder, something I felt that I just had to do. In another sense, however, it was such a radical break from the old me.
Yes, I was being true to myself. But while this may have been natural and appropriate, it did not make it easy or simple. While my family and friends had some idea of the revolution I had been going through, many found this step, this obvious Jew, a very public and (for some) confrontational statement. And if facing people who cared about me was difficult, it was initially more stressful dealing with others presumably less sympathetic.
I never would have thought it possible, but the adaptive process literally took years. There were various reasons for this. For one there was the question of my age. I was already in my mid-40s, clearly a late developer! For younger people less settled in their ways and environments, change may be easier.
More importantly, I felt let down by what I saw as the lack of endorsement by those close to me. But as a friend later pointed out, in truth they were just as vulnerable as I was, and my seemingly abrupt Jewishness was equally (and probably even more) disconcerting for them. Ultimately my family and friends were not objecting to the new me but rather to their feeling of being excluded from my process of change. Consequently, there was no mutual support and we became temporarily distanced from one another. (To be fair, however, the situation was to improve greatly as we talked and lived through the issues, and as they came to accept the sincerity of my commitment.) Ironically, despite what I had assumed, those who were strangers to me didn't at all care whether I had gone bare-headed in the past or, for that matter, whether I was Jewish or showed that Jewishness in an obvious manner.
Difficult though this period sometimes was, it nonetheless was leavened by being a time of rich spiritual growth. Apart from the personal aspect of adopting a Jewish appearance, there is another equally important dimension, the universal, as exemplified in the following story:
During the 1960s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent several Chasidim to Russia, in the guise of tourists. In some cities, they met secretly with members of the Chasidic underground. In other places, such contact was too dangerous; however, the Rebbe instructed his emissaries to still visit synagogues and places where Jews might be found. Years later, after having managed to leave Russia, one of the members of the Lubavitch community explained how precious those visits had been.
"The Russian government had begun a campaign to demoralize us. It would call in members of the Chasidic community and show them headlines from American Jewish newspapers and magazines, which spoke of assimilation and intermarriage. 'Your faith is doomed to extinction,' they told us. 'In Europe, your brethren have been wiped out and in America, they have forgotten their heritage. Why must you be so stubborn in your observance?'
"Their words had an effect, not that we believed them totally. But still, when reading an American Jewish newspaper that described 'the vanishing American Jew,' we had to become somewhat disheartened. And suddenly the Shluchim were seen in town! We could not talk with them, but we saw them! We saw evidence that it was not all that dark in America. These were young Americans wearing yarmulkes, tzitzit and full beards. It reinforced our faith in the future, and gave us strength to carry on."
After reading this story, I remembered how as a secular Jewish child growing up in Australia, I had been entranced by the "exotic" look of Orthodox Jewish men. Indeed, it also occurred to me how, on many a day when wearing a kipa seemed a burden, my feelings were lifted by a flash of recognition by a fellow Jew in the street, and even by curious non-Jews asking questions about Judaism.
It is ironic that, while many people would see affecting a Jewish appearance as limiting, I know that the opposite is undoubtedly true. Quite simply, there is nothing more liberating than finally stepping out of the shadows of secularism into the clear light of Torah, and openly acknowledging your true self. Second, as mentioned earlier, establishing congruity between one's internal and external selves is likely the most effective way of finding personal serenity. It is only then that we can hope to work for peace with others.
Rabbi and Mrs. Chanan Krivisky are moving to Monsey, New York, to establish Chabad at the State University of New York of Rockland County - SUNY RCC.
A groundbreaking ceremony for a new synagogue and Jewish community center in Talinn, Estonia, will take place on September 19. This will be the first synagogue in Estonia since the Holocaust.
4 Elul, 5734 (1984)
I am in receipt of your letter of 14 August. Needless to say, I am very sorry that my previous letter caused you some anguish, which, of course, was neither intended nor anticipated. I therefore hasten to reply to your letter in order to clarify my intent and, hopefully, to dispel your anxiety.
By way of preface, you must not think that I take personal offense if the suggestions which I convey in writing or orally are not followed. Certainly, in your case, there was no thought in my mind that if my suggestions were not accepted there would be cause for apprehension. It is only that when I am asked for advice and the like, I offer it as I see it, to the best of my knowledge, in the best interest of the inquirer, and in the case of your husband and yourself--in the best interests also of those in your environment.
Now to your letter and my previous one, to which it refers: I am certain that your husband can accomplish a great deal in his field, and that he can accomplish it in a way that will also be beneficial to the cause of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which will be a source of blessing to yourselves and many others, as indicated above. The more the activities are in harmony with G-d's directives and Shabbos observance is one of the most important ones, not only as a basic mitzva [commandment] of the Torah, but also of the Ten Commandments - the wider are opened the channels to receive G-d's blessings.
In the present instance there is a further benefit, in that generally when there is a proposition to appear in a show or entertainment, and, in the nature of things, such an offer may have both positive and negative aspects - the question of Shabbos and Yom Tov [holiday] observance can serve as a test of its desirability. For if it has to be declined on this ground, it is an indication that it is not desirable also on other grounds, including the material aspect.
The above may seem like a mystical approach to material things. But on deeper reflection it can be seen that the mystical approach is also a practical one. Moreover, in recent years we have seen that where certain celebrities insisted on Shabbos observance, their religious convictions were respected. To cite some instances: The American Grand Master of Chess, Samuel Reshevsky, while participating in a tournament in Moscow, refused to play on Shabbos, and the game was postponed until after Shabbos. And although religion is not at a "premium" in that country, it only raised his prestige. It was also beneficial to him from a practical viewpoint, for it gave him an opportunity to rest an extra day in between games, which, needless to say, are rather strenuous.
The world chess champion, B. Fischer, who is a Jew, though he professes to be a follower of the Seventh Day Adventists, also refused to play on Shabbos, even though he forfeited the game, but it did not hurt his chances to win the crown.
A further example from the world of business: A person who is a friend of mine participated in an International Fair in Moscow some 4 or 5 years ago. He notified the authorities that he could not do business on Shabbos, and a special session was arranged for him on Sunday. It turned out highly satisfactory for him, even business-wise, quite unintentionally and unexpectedly.
You write that you hesitated to show my letter to your husband, not knowing if he would follow my suggestion, etc. But I do not see why you should be apprehensive, since, as I explained, above, it is not connected with any stricture on my part. It is only free advice which, I believe, is for his benefit also materially, in addition to the spiritual aspects. But if he is not ready yet to accept it, I am certain we will remain good friends...
May I add that apparently I give your husband more credit than you do, for I firmly believe that he is capable of forgoing the material gain and personal satisfaction of appearing in a show if he is convinced that there is a worthwhile cause to warrant it. At any rate, my suggestion was based on the assumption that it would come - as you express it in regard to yourself, and also your husband, "from within, on a voluntary basis," being certain that your husband already has it "within" him, and only needs to bring it out to the surface in actual deed.
3 Elul, 5765 - September 7, 2005
Positive Mitzva 1: Believing in G-d
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:2) "I am the L-rd, your G-d" This first Positive mitzva commands us to believe in G-d, the Master Creator of the Universe.
Prohibition 1: You shall not believe anything else has the power of G-d except for G-d.
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 20:3) "You shall have no other gods besides Me" The first Positive mitzva teaches that we must believe in G-d. However, it would still be possible for someone to believe in G-d and also believe that there are other gods in the world. This prohibition cautions us not to believe that anything or anyone has the power of G-d, except for G-d.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On Shabbat we bless the new month of Elul and on Sunday and Monday we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Elul. The month of Elul is the last month of the Jewish year. Thus, it is a month devoted to introspection and repentance, in preparation for the new year.
Jewish teachings encourage us to be more careful and conscientious in our mitzva observance during this month, to say additional Psalms, give extra charity and make an honest reckoning of our behavior over the past year.
The Rebbe discusses the Sages comment of the need for the Jewish people to do teshuva (return to G-d) before Moshiach comes. The Rebbe said:
"The Talmud (Sanhedrin) states that the coming of Moshiach is dependent only on teshuva - repentance. As to the continuation of the above declaration of the Sages, that 'the matter now depends on teshuva alone,' G-d's people have already turned to Him in teshuva. For teshuva is an instantaneous process, which transpires 'in one moment, in one turn.' Furthermore, a single thought of teshuva is sufficient to alter one's entire spiritual status....
"Since on more than one occasion every Jew has had thoughts of teshuva, the coming of the future Redemption is surely imminent..."
Thus, though we are obligated to continuously do teshuva, the Rebbe clearly stated that the teshuva necessary to bring the Redemption has already been done.
May we merit the Redemption, as the Rebbe prophesied, in the immediate future.
Behind the way of the going down of the sun (Deut. 11:30)
The true blessing and curse, that is, the fitting rewards and punishments we receive according to our deeds, are bestowed only "behind the way of the going down of the sun"- after a person leaves this world and passes away, as it says, "There is no reward for a mitzva (commandment) in this world."
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse (Deut. 11:26)
There are two different kinds of "today" - the "today" of blessing and the "today" of curse. Consideration of the present moment as an impetus for action can be either positive or negative: "If not now, when?" spurs a Jew on to do good, whereas "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" leads him down the path of evil.
(Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander)
You are the children of the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 14:1)
Just as the child is drawn down from the brain of the father, so are the souls of the Jewish people drawn down from G-d's Supernal wisdom. However, the connection between the Jew and G-d is even loftier than that between an earthly father and son, for G-d's wisdom is not a separate entity from Him, but "He and His wisdom are one."
You shall not shut your hand from your needy brother (Deut. 15:7)
The first letters of this verse in Hebrew spell out the word "Tehillim" - Psalms. Reciting Psalms on behalf of a poor person is not enough; one must open his hand and give him material sustenance as well.
(Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin)
Observe and hear all these words which I command you (Deut. 12:28)
The great Torah commentator Rashi explains that "observe" refers to the study of Torah. Studying Torah preserves the G-dly spark within each of us, preventing it from becoming nullified and lost in the body's physicality and coarseness.
(Sefer Hamaamarim 5672)
There are numerous stories describing why the great Rabbi Yaakov Yosef from Polanyah renounced his initial opposition to the fledgling Chasidic movement and became an ardent follower of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism. The following story is considered by some to be the most accurate.
Early one morning, the Baal Shem Tov arrived at the marketplace in the town of Sharigrad, where Rabbi Yaakov Yosef served as the city's rabbi, and began talking to the passersby. Soon his heartfelt words and inspiring stories attracted a sizeable crowd. Many of his listeners had been on their way to shul for the morning services and stopped to hear him instead.
One can imagine Rabbi Yaakov Yosef's displeasure upon arriving at shul only to find it empty, except for the attendant.
"Where are all the people?" he demanded to know.
"Honored Rabbi," replied the attendant. "A distinguished-looking Jew is telling stories in the marketplace and many people have congregated around him."
"Well, please go tell them to come to shul immediately so we may proceed with services as usual," the rabbi ordered.
The attendant went to summon the people, but instead found himself among those captivated by the newcomer's tales.
"I'll go out there and call them myself," decided Rabbi Yaakov Yosef when the attendant failed to return.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef neared the crowd just as the Baal Shem Tov had begun a new story and found himself listening with interest.
"There was once a simple porter who always began his day at dawn, participating in the early minyan (quorom) for the saying of Psalms and the morning prayers. After praying, he would toil for many long hours, finishing shortly before sunset. Despite his exhaustion, the porter would always rush to shul for the afternoon service. He was careful never to miss the minyan and would stay on through the evening service to join a study group for the simple laborers, appropriate to their limited knowledge and understanding of Torah.
"The porter lived next door to a self-employed, learned scholar who led a much more comfortable life. The scholar did not have to rush to services, since his occupation afforded him both leisure and peace of mind. His prayers were always preceded and followed by an hour or so of concentrated study.
"One evening, the two neighbors met on their way home. The simple porter heaved a deep sigh in envy of the scholar whose prayers and learning far surpassed his own.
"Hearing the sigh, the scholar smiled to himself, thinking, 'How dare he aspire to my level of service!'
"Years later both neighbors passed away. Upon his arrival at the Heavenly Court, the scholar's prayers and Torah study were placed on one side of the scale, and they weighed heavily in justification of his devout service. Then, an unpleasant smile was placed on the other side, and the balance of the scales was tipped against him.
"In contrast, the porter's limited amount of study and prayers weighed lightly until his heartfelt sigh was added to them. Then, the scales tipped easily in his favor."
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef began to consider his own service and realized that it too, was tinged with self-concern. Perhaps, he thought to himself, this story-teller could show him a new path of service.
Reprinted from From My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Y. Chitrick.
The anticipation of the Redemption should be so powerful that one actually considers the Redemption a reality. When this happens, one should share this feeling with others, telling them that we can actually see the coming of the ultimate Redemption. Furthermore, even a person who has not fully internalized the concept of the Redemption in his own mind should make efforts to spread this concept to others, beginning with his own family and circle of acquaintances. Why should one's own failure to internalize these concepts cause others to be denied this knowledge?
(The Rebbe, 30 Av, 5751 - 1991)