Déjà Vu or Been There, Done That | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
We've all had that familiar sensation, of reliving an experience or event from the past. It's a weird feeling, like being caught in a time warp or on a chronological rollercoaster. A "déjà vu all over again" moment disorients us, much as waking up in an unfamiliar setting. When we find ourselves displaced, we lose our sense of direction and sense of balance. And it takes us a moment to regain the familiar. But once we have regained our emotional equilibrium, there's a certain joy, an exhilaration that follows the déjà vu.
A recently coined cliché attempts to forestall the psychological displacement by anticipating it, trivializing it, and dismissing it. "Been there, done that" dismisses the value of repetition, as if all experiences must be new - not completely disconnected from any previous experience, for then we would have no bearing, no context for our sensations.
"Been there, done that" distances us from the familiar, and in so doing, trivializes it, declaring it to be over-familiar. "Been there, done that" says that only the new experience is worth experiencing. Yet dismissing the importance of reliving, of going back where we've been, guarantees the new experience we seek will itself soon be a cliché.
When we think of our lives in terms of déjà vu and been there, it seems we struggle to both avoid and create a pattern, a structure, a series of habits. If we duplicate a moment in our lives, we lose for that moment who we are because whatever was between the deja vu and now, doesn't yet exist - and yet those "non-existent" experiences are who we've become. (In a sense, déjà vu gives us a chance to change the past.)
But if we reject the repetition, if we refuse to allow an experience to become a habit, we destabilize ourselves. We end up exhausting ourselves into the very boredom we're so desperate to avoid.
Nowhere do we find the paradox of déjà vu more powerfully than in prayer. On the one hand, prayer may be reduced, in essence, to a pursuit of the déjà vu. If we think about our most powerful experiences while praying, don't we want to repeat them each time we pray? Surely all of us have had what is called an epiphany, an encounter with the Divine, a revelation of the spiritual. And surely that encounter transfixed us then and transforms us still. And don't we pursue that same sensation, that same revelation, each time we pray? Don't we want to be transfixed again, experience a spiritual déjà vu?
And yet, prayer must be a rote activity, a recitation of the familiar so that we may share, include others, and thus build a community. The prayer service provides a form - but not a formula - for the infinite, a way of habituating ourselves to the transcendent, and communicating across levels of understanding and maturity. Still, forms may become formulaic and healthy routines dull habits. And when prayer becomes an exercise in the commonplace, when it evokes in us a resistant "been there, done that," it becomes a shell of itself, a hollow mockery of the transformative déjà vu.
So when it comes time to pray, we should ask ourselves, do we want a déjà vu or a been there, done that. For how we answer that question, how we approach the prayers, will determine which it will be.
This week's Torah portion, Bereishit (Genesis), is the first portion of the entire Torah. It recounts the story of Creation and tells, among other things, about the creation of the first people.
We read that Adam was commanded by G-d not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But Adam was not able to overcome his temptation and he ate the fruit.
According to the Midrash, the command not to eat the fruit was given after three-quarters of Friday had passed and was to be in effect only until Shabbat began. Adam and Eve were not to eat the fruit for only three hours!
When we consider that Adam was created by G-d, Himself, and heard the command from G-d, it seems amazing that he couldn't control himself for a mere three hours.
We learn from this episode the strength and guile of the yetzer hara - that aspect of our psyche which encourages us to go against G-d's will. The yetzer hara may camouflage its aim by trying to convince us that a commandment is too difficult or unimportant. Nevertheless, its real intention is to persuade us to go against G-d's will. Therefore, the more important a certain command is for a particular person, the harder the yetzer hara will try to dissuade the individual from performing the command. Even if the commandment is a very easy one, the yetzer hara will make it seem extremely difficult.
Thus, we can understand how Adam was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. The yetzer hara employed its most compelling arguments to convince Adam to sin.
The yetzer hara's arguments are highly evident today. Many contend that if the "burden" of the Torah, the details and laws, would be lightened, all Jews would adhere to them. But this is not true. For, even if there was but one commandment - and that for only three hours - the yetzer hara would make it seem impossibly difficult and repressive.
We cannot overcome the yetzer hara by compromising the Torah. We must, rather, realize that we have all been imbued with the strength to overcome the yetzer hara's arguments and guile. If we draw on our G-d-given inner strength, ultimately we will be victorious.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Jew is a Jew is a Jew
From a speech by David Sandelovsky at the annual dinner of Chabad of Greater Somerset County (New Jersey).
I would guess that most people in this room tonight have their own personal reason for being here. Maybe Chabad was there to help you in a time of need, maybe you were looking for answers to previously unanswered questions, perhaps you view Chabad as a safety net that simply must continue to flourish.
In my case, I had no idea what Chabad was about until my wife, Andi, and I were searching for a rabbi to guide our second son to his bar-mitzva close to four years ago. Andi suggested we contact Chabad. We live in Basking Ridge not a mile from Chabad but the only thing we were aware of was the large dreidel that sat out on the corner of the property at Chanuka each year.
With more than a little trepidation, we made an appointment to meet with Rabbi Mendy Herson. Within seconds of meeting him, I gave my wife a knowing glance...there was no way this was going to work!
Funny thing though, as we sat down and started discussing our issues and philosophy, it became very clear that we were all on the same page. Once Mendy said, "a Jew is a Jew is a Jew," we knew we were way too hasty in our initial prognosis. Being totally non-judgmental and overwhelmingly accommodating, Rabbis Herson and Lazaroff only wanted to teach our son what becoming a bar-mitzva was about. They made it clear that memorizing the Haftorah or reading the Torah without mistakes was secondary to understanding what it meant to be a responsible Jewish adult. We were sold.
Very soon thereafter, we started telling our family and friends that we would be celebrating the bar-mitzva at Chabad.
"Chabad?" they asked. Our parents were shocked, our friends thought we had joined a cult, and the rest of the family thought we had lost it! What were we thinking?
"Be careful," we were told! "They are going to try to change you," we were warned. It wasn't until everyone had met the rabbis that people understood there was no ulterior motive or secret mission going on. Chabad was simply there to help a Jewish family be Jewish.
After that, our relationship with Chabad slowly grew. We attended a few events, enrolled our daughter in the Hebrew School, and came for the High Holy days.
But it wasn't until I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine at work about Judaism that I realized how little I knew about the religion I had grown up with. This friend had chosen to convert to Judaism from Greek Orthodoxy and she knew so much more than I did - and I hated it. It was then that I sought out Mendy and asked him if he could put a class together for a friend and me to learn a bit more about Judaism. We met on Sunday mornings during Hebrew school; the more we learned, the more fun we had. The group grew, we shared great discussions and arguments, some of us started reading books on Judaism, and we learned. From there, we started having Monday night classes, we started an English study service on the first Shabbat of the month, and I even started attending the teen class at Hebrew school to help with the discussions.
Given the history I've just shared, you may understand that I think of this as "my" Chabad. But I am more than willing to share. As a matter of fact, I hope you all view Chabad in a personal way. You should view it as yours or - at the very least - as ours. The one thing I ask that you don't do, is view Chabad as someone else's. Chabad is nothing if we don't feel a sense of personal ownership in it. If we leave the future of our Chabad to someone else, we may not like what we are left with.
Unlike most other people, the Jews have always looked after their own. Unlike most congregations, our Chabad doesn't charge dues. It operates in great part from the generosity of those people here tonight. For safety, well-being, education, a sense of community, and so much more, we Jews have always reached into our pockets to do the right thing. On behalf of everyone at Chabad of Greater Somerset County let me say "thank you."
Let's Go Shopping!
The newest release from HaChai Publishing, Let's Go Shopping, is a rhyming picture book showing toddlers that shopping time can be mitzva time, too! Join a young brother and sister as they go from the butcher shop to the fish store, from the supermarket to the bakery, doing many mitzvot along the way! Written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld.
The Last Pair of Shoes
During the war, hunger and starvation were part of everyday life. In this heartwarming story, Shalva, a young boy whose father was taken into the army, works hard to feed his own family and comes up with an ingenious idea to help an even poorer family in need. Young children learn a valuable lesson that one is never too poor, or too young, to help others in need. Masterfully written by Sashi Fridman and beautifully illustrated by Seva, The Last Pair of Shoes is Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch Publications' newest release.
A freely adapted letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
We are reminded of the custom in some communities to proclaim at the outgoing moments of Simchas Torah (the culmination and final key-note of all the festivals of Tishrei): "And Yaakov went on his way," meaning, his prescribed way and G-dly service, his way of life, throughout the year.
There is a message contained in the phrase And Yaakov went on his way - and bearing in mind that each letter and word of the Torah is a world full of meaning and instruction -
There is need to elaborate on the concepts contained in the said three Hebrew words, to wit:
And Yaakov: It is well known that the two names of our Patriarch, Yaakov and Yisrael, are quite different,
1. In time - the name Yaakov was given at birth, whereas "Yisrael" was bestowed later, after he had achieved "You have striven with Angels and with men, and have prevailed."
2. In meaning - the name Yaakov is associated with ekev, "heel," which is the lowest and last part of the body, wherein there is hardly any distinction between one person and another. The name Yisrael, on the other hand, has to do with leadership and mastery, and, rearranged, spell "li rosh," "I am the head," the head being the highest part of the body, wherein the essential differences (physical and spiritual) between individuals are located, viz, facial features, voice, looks, and mentality.
Now, the significance of Yaakov, in the said message of "And Yaakov went on his way," is in that it refers to the Divine mission given to every Jew, without exception, from birth, while still in the state of "Yaakov," and at the beginning of his Divine service. From this starting point, the said mission is to be fulfilled in a manner containing the following elements:
Went on - implying true locomotion, i.e. leaving completely behind one place (and spiritual state) to go to another, more desirable place.
Parenthetically, this is the reason why angels are called "omdim - stationary," for although "they fulfill the Will of their Maker with awe and fear, and praise G-d in song and melody" - which is their form of advancement to higher states, there is no complete departure and change involved in their nature, hence this cannot be termed perfect "going."
Only man is called "mehalech," a "walker," for his task is to go from strength to strength, even if his previous station, spiritually, is satisfactory. Yet, to remain in the same state will not do at all. His progression must involve a change, to the extent where his new spiritual state is incomparably higher than his previous one, however good it was, and he must thus continue on the road that leads to G-dliness, the En Sof, the Infinite as indicated further -
His way - the King's Way, the way of the Supreme King of the universe. The preeminence of a perfect way, as has been pointed out, is that it links the remotest corner with the Royal Palace in the Capital City; it is a two-way road, leading from the Palace to the remote corner and from the remote corner to the Palace.
Likewise, the Divine mission of every Jew, whose soul descended from the pinnacle of her heavenly abode to the nadir of the material world, for the purpose of linking the two through his Divine service in both directions: "From below - upwards" (generally through prayer, "Unto You, O G-d, I lift up my soul"), and "from above - downwards" (generally through the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvos, G-d's wisdom and will, respectively, as reflected, particularly, in the mitzva of tzedaka, giving alms to a poor and needy person, who craves for everything, having nothing of his own).
This is also how the service of every Jew, man and woman, should be. One must not be satisfied with one's influence at home, in the community, or country, but one must open the way, the King's way, as above, that leads even to the remotest corner of the earth, in order to bring there, too, the word of the King of Kings, and illuminate that corner with the light of Torah and mitzvos, and to uplift all that is in that corner to the state of "Unto You, O G-d, I lift my soul."
May G-d grant that each and everyone of us will carry out the mission included in the said instruction of "And Yaakov went on his way," with all that it connotes, and carry it out with joy for "joy breaks through barriers."
29 Tishrei, 5766 - November 1, 2005
Positive Mitzva 153: The New Moon - Calculating the Months and Years
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 12:2) "This month shall be to you the beginning of months" Determining the new month is crucial to the Jewish calendar. The Torah commands the Rabbinical Court to calculate the months and declare the necessary leap years. The manner in which it was done applies only to the time of the Great Sanhedrin in Israel. Today, we follow the Jewish calendar which was established by Rabbi Hillel HaNasi. He calculated the precise arrivals of the new moon and the years which would be considered leap years. We rely on this calendar until the arrival of Mashiach, when we will return to the original method of the eye-witness reports.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Bereishit," the Shabbat on which we read the first portion of the first book of the Torah - Bereishit.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, used to say that "the position which we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit determines the nature of our conduct in the entire year to come."
Shabbat Bereishit represents the transition from the holidays of the month of Tishrei to our regular, day-to-day life of the coming months.
Shabbat, in general, is known to elevate the spiritual service of the previous week. As Shabbat Bereishit follows the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah - holidays that collect and internalize all the influences of the holiday-filled month of Tishrei - Shabbat Bereishit perfects and elevates the holidays of Tishrei.
In addition, Shabbat Bereishit is the Shabbat on which the month of Marcheshvan is blessed. One of the reasons that the prefix "mar" is added to the name of the month Cheshvan is that "mar" means bitter. Cheshvan has no holidays and is therefore a "bitter" month, especially in comparison to holiday-packed Tishrei.
Because Shabbat Bereishit has both of these aspects - the culmination of the previous month and the blessing of the upcoming month - it can potentially influence the entire year.
Thus, the position we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit has the potential to influence the entire year; it can bring the spiritual inspiration of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah into our regular, day-to-day living.
May we all have a very "successful" Shabbat Bereishit.
In the beginning (bereishit) G-d created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1)
Our Sages tell us that the entire world was created solely for the sake of the two things that are called "reishit" ("first") - Israel (the Jewish people) and the Torah. Speaking about the Messianic Era, the Prophet Isaiah said, "The nation and the kingdom that does not serve you will be destroyed." When Moshiach comes the nations of the world will lend aid and support to the Jewish people, recognizing that their very existence depends on their service; those who refuse to accept their subservient position will disappear from the face of the earth.
(Likutei Sichot Vol. XXIV)
G-d blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28)
The birth of a Jewish child brings joy not only to his parents and extended family but to the entire Jewish people, for it signifies a step closer to the coming of Moshiach. The Talmud states that Moshiach will not arrive until "all the souls in guf" (the storehouse in which they await their descent into the physical world) have been born. The birth of a Jewish baby therefore hastens the Redemption and brings closer the blessings of the Messianic Era.
(Sichat 25 Iyar, 5743)
G-d rested from all the work which He had created to be done. (Gen. 2:3)
Rashi explains that the words "to be done" teach that the world was created incomplete, as it were, requiring the active participation of mankind to attain perfection. But how can we, insignificant as we are, complete the act of creation? The Torah's own words, "created to be done" assures us that this perfection is within our grasp, and is part of G-d's plan. Each of us has the strengths and talents to improve the world and elevate it into something holy and Divine.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The Maggid of Mezritch (the successor of the Baal Shem Tov) was an unusually gifted Talmudic scholar. But on Shabbat he would only teach spiritual ideas of Chasidism. One Shabbat, however, he unexpectedly gave a long and complicated Talmudic dissertation unifying several apparently contradicting legal passages. This was a great wonder to his pupils who nonetheless dutifully memorized every word.
The day after that unusual Shabbat, the Maggid told one of his pupils, Rabbi Zusia of Annipoli, to set off on a journey, though the Maggid did not give Reb Zusia a destination. Dutifully, Reb Zusia set off, certain that his feet would take him on the right path. A week later, Reb Zusia stopped for the night at a small inn near the city of Hamburg.
"There is one bed available but you can't have it," said the proprietor to Reb Zusia when he inquired about a bed. "The room is being occupied by the great Talmudic genius Rabbi Refoel and I can't put you together with him."
This Rabbi Refoel, a devoted follower of the Vilna Gaon (the undisputed leader of Lithuanian Jewry and one of the biggest opponents of Chasidism), was on his way to Hamburg to vie for the position of Chief Rabbi of that city. Each candidate had to present a Talmudic dissertation before the elder scholars of the city and then answer all their questions satisfactorily; the scholar who found favor in their eyes would be chosen as the next Chief Rabbi.
Rabbi Refoel was a sure thing. His genius and erudition were almost unmatched as were his credentials, especially his closeness to the Vilna Gaon. Now he was sitting in this inn repeating the dissertation one last time. It was very long and complex and he wanted to make sure things would go smoothly.
Meanwhile, in the lobby, Reb Zusia was trying desperately to convince the owner to just let him have a peek at the great Rabbi Refoel; he felt that this guest had something to do with his mission. Finally the owner agreed.
Rabbi Refoel was so deeply involved in his dissertation that he didn't notice Reb Zusia. Reb Zusia, for his part, was startled to hear that the Rabbi was delving into the same exact subject that the Maggid had unexplainably spoken about on Shabbat!
Suddenly Rabbi Refoel stopped. He remembered a commentary in the Talmud that completely destroyed his entire presentation! Not only would his dissertation not succeed, it was wrong... he was wrong!!
Now Reb Zusia made his presence known and offered his help. Reb Zusia looked like an itinerant beggar and Rabbi Refoel's first instinct was to throw him out. But, he was desperate, so he agreed to listen.
"But only on one condition," said Reb Zusia. "The answer I'm giving you now I heard from my master, the Maggid of Mezritch. I want you to promise that after you are chosen tomorrow, you will go to visit him."
Rabbi Refoel shuddered. The Maggid? The head of the Chasidim! He hesitated; perhaps the charges against Chasidism were baseless. Rabbi Refoel asked Reb Zusia to proceed. Reb Zusia repeated what he heard from the Maggid solving all Rabbi Refoel's problems.
The next day Rabbi Refoel appeared in Hamburg, made a perfect impression and was chosen as Chief Rabbi. But he was afraid to keep his promise. He traveled to Vilna to ask the Gaon what to do. "If you gave your word you must keep it." he answered. "You must go to the Maggid. But, you must come back immediately and report everything you hear and see. And you must swear before ten men that you won't tell anyone there who you are."
Early the next morning Rabbi Refoel dressed like a wanderer and set out. When he arrived at the Maggid's court he was very impressed with what he saw. The prayers and Torah study of the Chasidim had fervor and depth that he had never experienced. And he had never seen anything like the Maggid in his life; here was a G-dly man.
Later that morning a woman brought in a chicken with a question as to its kosher status. The Maggid called his pupils over to debate the law. The question was a difficult one but the Maggid's pupils concluded that the bird was permissible according to all opinions.
The Maggid then explained the question according to the Kabalistic views and also concluded that according to Kabala the bird was also kosher. Then he added, "But standing right there in the corner is Rabbi Refoel, the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg. Let us hear what he has to say."
Rabbi Refoel felt something in his soul open when the Maggid called his name. He looked up in awe and then ran out of the room. But when he returned to the Gaon his newfound respect was not shared. The Gaon gathered ten elders, listened to the rabbi's report and concluded that it was all done through sorcery and evil.
"But how do you know that your refusal to speak to the Maggid or consider my report is not from evil?" Rabbi Refoel asked. But he received no reply.
Rabbi Refoel did not travel to the Maggid again out of respect for the Gaon. But from that day on, he was no longer an opponent to Chasidism and he eventually became a clandestine Chasid.
Greater emphasis has to be placed on recognizing the uniqueness of the Jewish people and on emphasizing their connection to the Land of Israel. Similarly, emphasis must be placed on Torah study, in particular, the study of Chitat (Chumash, Tehillim, and Tanya). This will lead to the coming of the Redemption. And then we will proceed together with the entire Jewish people to the Land of Israel, to Jerusalem, and to the Holy Temple.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Bereishit, 5752 - 1991)