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Glass, paper, plastic, aluminum. Many cities throughout the United States and countries around the world have instituted environmentally beneficial recycling. Put out your bottles, cans, jars (sorted or unsorted - depending on location) and bundle your newspapers and magazines. Earn extra "goodie points" if you reuse shopping bags, "throwaway" aluminum pans, and scrap paper..
Just like adult children who have recently begun caring for their elderly parents, we've gotten serious about caring for "mother" earth. And though it takes some getting used to, and perhaps even "infringes" on our freedom, we need to do it all the same.
Take a quick look in the garbage can (your own - we're not suggesting you look in trash around Hollywood in the hopes of writing a book about celebrity rubbish.) What you'll find, of course, is that which you don't need.
Every day, for most of our lives, we're sorting out the good from the bad. We're separating and selecting what's useful from that which is no longer, or was never, useful.
Rabbi Hillel was asked by a potential convert to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel's concise reply was, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the essence of Judaism while the rest is commentary. Go and study it." Rabbi Hillel sifted and sorted through the entire Torah and felt that all of the Torah's commandments are included in this one admonition.
Throughout the life of a Jew, every day and for our entire lives, we are expected to separate ourselves from the profane, from the non-essentials of life, from that which is not of use to our personal and communal mission. We need to sort out our priorities, recycle some of our old ideas, and trash others completely. Sometimes, we might begrudge the time and energy this recycling and sorting requires. After all, when we're dealing with real garbage, who enjoys storing bottles, getting dirty from bundling newspapers or crushing cans? But do it we must, if we really care about future generations.
Even those who have heard of, or try to live by, Rabbi Hillel's words unfortunately don't always do the right thing. They sift through Rabbi Hillel's teaching before they even have a chance to use it. They figure that the first part, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow," is useful; it's humanitarian, altruistic and universal. But they discard, as insignificant or cumbersome, "Go and study it."
Yet, just as we need to read and know well our local regulations regarding what needs to be recycled and when in order to recycle properly, so too must we study the Torah and its teachings to understand how to properly implement this fundamental teaching of Rabbi Hillel.
So, the next time you're sorting through piles of extraneous matter, consider in your life could use recycling.
This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, concentrates on the life of Abraham and his family. It forms the basis for and reflects the future of the Jewish people. The climax of the events of this Torah portion revolve around the upbringing of Abraham's two son, Ishmael and Issac.
Our Matriarch, Sara, was childless. In a supreme act of selflessness, she encouraged Abraham to marry her handmaid Hagar, thus hoping through Hagar to fulfill G-d's promise that Abraham's progeny would be His chosen people. When a son, Ishmael, was born to Abraham and Hagar, Abraham expressed his contentment with Ishmael. In fact, when G-d promised Abraham a son from Sara, he beseeched G-d, "May it be granted that Ishmael lives before You," (Genesis 17:18) indicating that Ishmael was sufficient to him. Nevertheless, G-d told Abraham that His covenant would be established through Isaac.
What was the difference between Ishmael and Isaac that G-d insisted on creating His covenant only through Isaac? Everything surrounding Ishmael's birth, upbringing and life was based on natural order and logical process. He was born while Hagar was still young. He accepted his covenant with G-d (circumcision) at the age of 13 when he could make a determined, rational decision to embrace belief in the one G-d.
Isaac's birth and life, on the other hand, was immersed in supranatural events. He was born miraculously to Sara, a 90 year-old woman. He was brought into the covenant of G-d at the tender age of eight days, before he could behave intellectually or rationally. In addition, G-d was involved in Isaac's upbringing; He commanded Abraham to heed Sara's demand that Ishmael be sent away because he was a bad influence on Isaac.
Our sages tell us that the "actions of our ancestors is a sign for us" in how to conduct our lives. The fact that G-d chose Isaac over Ishmael through whom to establish His covenant is a clear indication for us. Even when it seems that the analytical, systematic approach to Judaism and faith is adequate, the Torah stresses something different. To insure our continuous, unbreakable bond with G-d, we must conduct our lives in the supranatural and suprarational realm. Too, we must make a firm stand as did Sara, and educate our children as was Isaac. Our children must be bred and imbued with the miracles and supranatural elements of Jewishness in an environment devoid of negative influences.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Journal of Hope
by Abe Raphael
Challenges face us every day. Usually they are modest hurdles that we can jump on our own; sometimes they are tougher obstacles, and we need help from a friend or loved one to prevail. And occasionally there are the times of crisis that remind us of the fragility of the human body and spirit. These are the moments when it's not clear whether we will overcome the challenge at all.
It could be a tragic car accident, or the threat of homelessness after a job loss. Maybe it's an unexpected health problem, or the death of someone who cares for a disabled person. When these hard times come, where can we turn? If we can't find adequate support through loved ones - or through public programs - who can we rely on?
For many people, the answer is Chabad. Once contact is made with Chabad's Crisis Intervention Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Jonathan Tuller immediately sorts out the details of the problem at hand and determines how he can help. I recently had a chance to spend a day with the Rabbi so that I could see his work firsthand.
6:30 AM: Hailing from the S. Fernando Valley, Rabbi Tuller begins his day at Chabad of North Hollywood. Wrapped in his prayer shawl, he prays for the well-being of those in his care.
8:30 AM: Across town, the Rabbi meets with several young men at Chabad's National Residential Treatment Center. He engages them in conversation, acting as a mentor while he discusses their personal development.
Adjacent to the Treatment Center are the offices of the Crisis Intervention Center where Rabbi Tuller works as director. He is inundated with voicemails. After jotting down some notes, he says, "We're going to Covina."
8:42 AM: During our car ride, Rabbi Tuller discusses what crisis intervention is all about. "Sometimes people are living just above the poverty line, and then they get hurt or lose their job," the Rabbi says. "Where are they going to go for help?" I wonder the same thing, hoping I never have to find out myself. I know there are many people who the government can't or won't reach.
9:11 AM: Rabbi Tuller's cell phone rings, and he takes the call. "Hello Irving," he says with a smile, "How was the surgery?" The Rabbi chats with the man for a few minutes, and then explains that Irving is an old horse trainer who called him a few weeks ago about a medical procedure he needed but could not afford. Rabbi Tuller convinced a local doctor to perform the operation for free, and Irving was calling today to thank him.
9:57 AM: We arrive at a federally subsidized housing facility and walk over to an apartment. At the door, Rabbi Tuller is greeted by Diana, who has extensive scars on her legs. She was recently in a car accident that robbed her of her mobility - and her job. She introduces her husband, David, who sits in a wheelchair; he lost part of a foot in the accident and is recovering slowly.
"We just fell on bad luck," Diana explains. "We both had good jobs, but after the accident we couldn't work and our employers let us go." As Diana reveals the extent of their financial crisis, Rabbi Tuller listens intently. The Rabbi doesn't interrupt Diana; he listens with an open heart. It becomes clear that the couple's situation is desperate, and that government assistance is not forthcoming. After learning the details of their predicament, Rabbi Tuller thanks them for their time and pledges to see how Chabad can help. Diana and David have been comforted, and feel reassured that someone actually cares about them.
11:16 AM: We stop at Chabad's West Coast Headquarters. From there, he calls a single mother of two to share some good news: the Crisis Intervention Center has successfully advocated for this poor family, and they now qualify for government support.
11:58 AM: Rabbi Tuller goes to a lunch meeting with a boy named Zev and his mother. Zev is a young, capable kid in need of positive direction; his mother called Chabad two weeks ago after he ran away from home. The Rabbi orders a coffee and introduces me. I explain that I'm just along for the ride, and let them talk.
2:15 PM: We head back to the Crisis Intervention Center, where Rabbi Tuller checks his voicemail again and returns calls while I take a break.
3:20 PM: We're on the road heading to the Valley to visit an elderly gentleman - a Russian war hero. The man is 80 years old and nearly blind. His home is decorated with Russian antiques, Jewish books and art. As he tells us war stories full of bravery and adventure, it's clear that whatever issue he's facing in his personal life is secondary to his excitement over having visitors. Rabbi Tuller listens, letting his old friend talk. Later, the Rabbi offers the man a check to help pay for his prescriptions.
But there is another problem: "Someone has stolen the mezuza from my door," the man explains. "I know," says Rabbi Tuller, "you told me on the phone. I've brought one as a gift from Chabad." With that, the two of them are at the door saying the blessing for affixing a mezuza. I realize Rabbi Tuller does more than just dole out checks.
4:50 PM: As we drive back to the Crisis Intervention Center, I think about my own experiences with Chabad. I remember the warmth I felt attending Chabad's Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach as a boy. I also know Chabad reached out to my parents when they were students in Seattle at the University of Washington.
7:15 PM: I'm home now. Rabbi Tuller must be exhausted if his days are all like this. Rabbi Tuller personifies the Chabad ethic of energetically reaching out to help others in need. It seems to me that his actions are a microcosm of what Chabad strives to do every day across the world through acts of loving kindness. And it's good to know that there are people and organizations out there engaged in this kind of work.
Abe Raphael is a cinematographer living in Los Angeles. Reprinted from chabad.com
Nineteen Chabad Houses in Jerusalem
There are currently 19 Chabad Houses in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem. The Chabad Houses offer Jerusalem's residents a plethora of services, including adult education classes, afternoon Hebrew schools, holiday programs, outreach to terror victims, food distribution to the needy, and much more. Chabad Houses are operating in Gilo, near the Western Wall, Givat Mordechai, Hebrew University, the Old City, Har Choma and Neve Yaakov, as well as in many other neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem. They also include Chabad Houses for Russian, English and French speakers. Two more Chabad Houses are due to open soon, one in the "Holy Land" neighborhood and another in Ramat Danya.
From a talk of the Rebbe, 27 Tishrei, 5752
Although the Jews are living under the dominion of the gentiles and in such circumstances, the Torah teaches "The law of the land is your land," "Do not rebel against the nations," and "Do not challenge the nations," this does not mean that the Jews must fear the nations. On the contrary, even in such circumstances, the Jews represent the purpose of the creation of the world as a whole.
The above restrictions, rather, resemble the Torah's command, "Do not aggravate Moab or challenge them with war." The Jews had no reason to fear this nation, nor did they have to rely on it for anything. Nevertheless, since G-d had ordained that the Jews would not be given their land, there was no reason to challenge them.
Similarly, the commands "Do not challenge the nations" and "The law of the land is your law," are not instituted because of fear, but rather because this is the order which G-d established in the time of exile. Even during the exile, however, the Jews are still G-d's chosen nation and the purpose of the entire creation.
The principle "The law of the land is your law," applies only in regard to certain ma-terial matters, e.g., business law, taxes, and the like, but not in regard to the Torah and its commandments. Regarding the latter, we have the clear assurance of the Previous Rebbe that "our souls were not sent into exile." Furthermore, even in regard to material matters, the dominion the gentiles have over us is limited in nature and exists only because this is the order which G-d decreed as punishment for our sins.
For this reason, the Jews are obligated to be grateful to the gentiles for the kindness they receive from them as implied by the verse, "Seek the welfare of the city.... for its welfare will bring you peace." Nevertheless, this does not mean that the Jews need the gentiles for their kindness...
Throughout the centuries, the Jews have been recognized as "the chosen people." In the world at large, and in particular, in the United States, the Jews are allowed to carry out their service of G-d without persecution, indeed, amidst rest and prosperity. Furthermore, the Government offers assistance to the Jews here and those in the Land of Israel, enabling them to progress in the service of G-d.
This has been made possible by the activities of many of the Torah sages in their relations with the gentiles, including the activities of the Chabad Rebbes. May these activities increase the regard the gentiles have for the Jews, increase the nature of the assistance they grant them, and increase the gentiles' support for the Jews' control over the Land of Israel.
Based on the above, we can understand how inappropriate are the statements which certain Rabbis have recently made that the Jews must comply with the demands of the gentile nations in regard to the Land of Israel. These state-ments continue, stating that, heaven forbid, such compliance is necessary because the existence of the Jews in Israel is dependent on the kindness of the gentile nations.
The lack of faith shown by these statements is horrifying. They imply that:
- The future of the Jewish people is in doubt. This is impossible, for the Jews are an eternal people as the verse states, "I, G-d, have not changed, nor have you, O Children of Israel, been destroyed."
- The Torah begins with Bereishit to emphasize how the entire world exists for the sake of the Jews. Thus there is no way that the gentile powers can have true control over the Jews. Indeed, since this is the Torah,'s first teaching it can be under-stood to be the basis of the entire Torah.
Despite the fact that these concepts are obvious, a Jew made such statements before many other Jews who came to hear him teach Torah.
The principle, "Do not challenge the nations" is not relevant in this context, for this principle can never override an explicit teaching of Torah law. In this instance, we are clearly bound by the decision of the Shulchan Aruch that if gentiles threaten to attack a Jewish settlement we must take up arms and defend ourselves against them. And if that settlement is located on the border, we must take up arms against them even if they are demanding "straw and hay," for by acquiescing to them, we "open the entire land to them."
Since such statements were made, it is obvious that 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... And this will lead to the coming of the Redemption.
Translated/adapted by Sichos In English
9 Cheshvan, 5766 - November 11, 2005
Positive Mitzvah 213: Marriage
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 24:1) "When a man takes a wife and marries her" The groom is commanded to marry and live with his wife according to the law of the Torah.
15 Cheshvan, 5766 - November 17, 2005
Positive Mitzvah 212: To Be Fruitful and Multiply
This mitzva is based on the verse (Gen. 1:28) "Be fruitful and multiply" G-d created the world for people to live in. This Positive Mitzvah commands us to have children.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Lech L'cha, discusses the upbringing of one of our patriarchs, Isaac.
Isaac was the son of Sara and Abraham, born to them in their old age. Ishmael, a son to Abraham by his wife Hagar, was a teenager when Isaac was born.
Ishmael's behavior was far from exemplary. He was already a young man when Isaac, a mere child, was at a most impressionable age. Sara saw how Ishmael behaved, how he scoffed at Abraham's teachings. According to the Biblical commentator, Rashi, this "scoffing" might even have included idol-worship or murder!
Sara's only solution to the problem of Ishmael affecting Isaac in a negative manner was to have Hagar and Ishmael sent away. When she demanded this of Abraham, he objected. Ishmael, after all, was his son, and his first-born son at that.
G-d, however, told Abraham, "In all that Sara says to you, listen to her voice." Sara was correct in insisting that Isaac, the person who would carry on G-d's covenant, be brought up in an atmosphere devoid of harmful and injurious influences.
The lesson for us today is clear. We must do everything in our power to raise our children in the proper atmosphere. It must be an environment which fosters Jewish pride and identity, love of all Jews, the Torah and G-d. We must ensure that they are brought up among people who will not scoff at the teachings of our ancestors. And in all these matters, as G-d Himself said, the voice of Sara must be listened to.
Their property was so great that they could not dwell together. (Gen. 13:6)
It is not poverty, as some might think, but rather wealth which brings strife between people. Dissension and conflict come because of material abundance, because of jealousy when one person has more than another.
And also that nation whom they serve will I judge, and afterward they will go out with great substance (Gen. 15:14)
Just as those Jews living during the previous exiles in Egypt and Babylonia who put their faith in the nations and their kings for their salvation were proven wrong, so too will those who, in our present exile, think that we must rely on the nations of the world for our continued existence and redemption. When Moshiach comes and G-d judges all the nations, the Jews will see that their faith in them was misplaced. At that time we will also "go out with great substance," the greatest riches of them all - the ultimate Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And G-d said to Abraham...your reward is exceedingly great (Gen. 15:1)
According to logic, the reward for doing a mitzva should be finite and limited to the amount of effort which the person expended on its behalf. G-d, however, in His infinite greatness, increases our reward beyond the boundaries of time and place.
There lived in the city of Luchitz, Poland, a saintly man by the name of Reb Aron and his wife. Together they managed an inn rented from the local duke. It happened that for quite some time Reb Aron was not able pay the rent. The duke threatened that if the debt was not paid, Reb Aron and his wife would be thrown in jail. Despite all their efforts, the couple was not able to meet the payments and they were put in the duke's personal prison. The duke gave orders not to give Reb Aron and his wife any food or even water.
Reb Aron's wife was pregnant at the time with their first child. Reb Aron cried out to G-d for help and his prayer was answered in the form of a servant who had pity on them. Daily, without anyone or knowing, he would pass by the prison window and throw in a package of food. Six months passed thus. One day, Reb Aron's wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy whom they named Shlomo Efrayim.
Once, when the kind servant passed by the window, he heard the baby cry. The servant decided to help the little family in a more substantial way.
A few days later, the duke mentioned Reb Aron and his wife, saying, "Surely they must be dead by now." The servant spoke up. "Not only are Reb Aron and his wife not dead, they have a beautiful baby boy. I have heard that the G-d of the Jews has performed such miracles before."
The duke immediately went with his wife to see this miracle. "Are you alive?" the duke called out incredulously.
"Yes, thank G-d, we are alive and well," Reb Aron answered.
"Is it true that you have a son?" the duke questioned further.
Reb Aron picked up the baby and showed him to the duke.
"My wife and I have no children," the duke said. "Give me your son to raise as my own, and I will let you leave this dungeon, live as free people, and give you your inn as a gift. If you do not agree, I can kill you and take this child anyway." Reb Aron and his wife realized there was no choice but to give the duke and duchess their son. They were freed from jail and lived another dozen years but never again saw their son.
Shlomo Efrayim grew up as the son of the duke and duchess, not knowing that he was Jewish. He was a remarkable student and caught on quickly to all he was taught. One night, a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, he had a strange dream. An old man came to him and said, "You are my son, a Jewish boy. In a few weeks you will be duty-bound to fulfill G-d's commandments. I have come to tell you that you must go to a place where you can learn to live as a Jew." The boy had the same dream for three nights but he did not tell the duke or duchess.
The night before his thirteenth birthday, his father came to him again. "My son, tonight is the night of your Bar Mitzva and I cannot permit you to remain here any longer." Suddenly he felt as if he were being carried away. He found himself before the gates of a synagogue. His father said to him, "You are now in the city of Prague. A man will come to open the synagogue and will ask you who you are. Do not answer. Tell him you want to see the Rabbi of Prague, the great Maharal. Then tell the Maharal everything."
Shlomo Efrayim did as he was instructed. The Maharal immediately made a place for Shlomo Efrayim in his home and arranged a teacher for him. Because of brilliance, Shlomo Efrayim was able in a very short while to learn with the scholars of the Maharal's Yeshiva.
The Maharal sent Shlomo Efrayim to study in Pressberg and then later to Levov. Before leaving for Levov, the Maharal instructed Shlomo Efrayim to work there as a simple laborer, never revealing his true greatness. "After I depart from this world," the Maharal explained, "a delegation will come to you with a letter from me. I want you to carry out what the letter states."
Shlomo Efrayim married and lived very simply, selling eggs by day to support his family and at night studying Torah with great diligence. It was in Levov that he wrote his classical work, Olilot Efrayim. He called himself Efrayim Olilot, and was known as a simple, impoverished, but honest man.
Before the Maharal's passing, he called to the people of his city. "After my departure, go to the city of Levov where you will find a man called Efrayim Olilot. Give him this letter and he will be the rabbi in my place."
After the Maharal's passing, a delegation carried out his request. They arrived at an inn in Levov and stated, "We came to take the great, learned sage, Efrayim Olilot, to be the rabbi of our city."
No one knew of an Efrayim Olilot who should command such respect. The delegation searched for three days, but to no avail. When they were about to return to Prague, someone approached them. "If you are interested in Efrayim Olilot, I know a man by that name." The delegation went with the man to a broken-down shack where they found Shlomo Efrayim, his wife and children dressed in tatters. Shlomo Efrayim's clothes were torn, but his face shone like that of a holy person. They said to him, "Sholom Aleichem, our teacher and rabbi. We have a letter from the Maharal."
Shlomo Efrayim read the letter. The Maharal asked that he become the rabbi of Prague. "The command of my Rabbi is one that I must accept.
The whole city of Levov followed the carriage in which Rabbi Shlomo Efrayim left for the city of Prague. He became one of the most colorful rabbinic leaders of his time. He wrote the famous commentary "Klei Yakar," which is printed side by side other famous commentaries on the Bible.
In the Era of the Redemption, the relationship between the Jews and the Land of Israel will reach a state of completion. For then the concept of "All its inhabitants will dwell upon it" will be in the most complete manner. Even in previous generations when "all the inhabitants [dwelled] upon it," it was only the inhabitants of that generation who lived there. In the Era of the Redemption, by contrast, not only all the Jews of that generation - including the Ten Tribes who are presently behind the Sambation River - but also all the Jews of all previous generations who will arise in the Resurrection, will live there.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 11 Marcheshvan, 5752)