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In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it's getting cold outside. Time to rearrange your closets, pull out your sweaters and make sure there are no buttons missing on your winter coat.
For some people, just thinking about the cold makes them want to find a nice, warm fireplace to park themselves in front of for the whole winter.
Cold and warm are not just terms that define the seasons or the weather. They are often words used to describe emotions and personalities, too. And, they have frequently been used to express the Jewish people's relationship with G-d, Judaism, and the Torah.
When the Jews were in the desert about to receive the Torah, they were likened to a fiery flame. One nation, the nation of Amalek, waged war against the Jewish people in the desert. Although it was an actual physical battle, it had great spiritual repercussions. For, of Amalek it is said, "he made you cool" - he cooled down the Children of Israel from their fervor and enthusiasm after having received the Torah.
Moses and Joshua led the nation in battle against Amalek. Wouldn't a peace treaty or some concessions have been better? Afterall, at this point, the Jewish people were a tiny, fledgling nation, not at all equipt to begin a major armed campaign against a militarisitic people like Amalek. A war hardly seems the optimal way to try and overcome their differences.
But Amalek hoped to do much more than physical damage to the Jews. He wanted to cool them off from Judaism, to lessen the warmth they felt toward the Torah. Therefore, any and all measures had to be employed to assure victory over Amalek.
Our Sages explain that the Hebrew word "Amalek" has the same numerical value as "sofek," which means doubt or uncertainty. Part of Amalek's weaponry in it's battle to cool off the Jewish people is to make us have doubts about living Jewishly, to confuse us about what our real priorities must be, to cause us to feel uncertain about what, where, when (and if!) to observe mitzvot (commandments).
If we feel ourselves getting cold, and not because of winter weather, we too, should utilize whatever methods are available to us in order to triumph over those feelings. When we feel someone or something making us cold or distant toward Judaism, we can't make concessions or peace treaties. Because once something like Amalek gets an inch, he's going to want a foot and then a mile. Cold might be all right for the Eskimos, but most of us prefer the Bahamas.
This week's Torah reading, Chayei Sara, describes Abraham as being "old, advanced in years." The Midrash explains that there are some who are old, but do not appear advanced in years, and others who appear advanced in years, but are not old. Abraham's advancement in years paralleled his age.
On a simple level, the Midrash is speaking about physical appearance. But there is a deeper point to the teaching of the Midrash: often people function on a level of maturity far below their chronological age. What it says on the person's birth certificate is one thing, but the degree of intellectual and emotional development he shows may be something else entirely. Abraham, the Midrash teaches, grew as he aged. His personal and spiritual development went hand in hand with the passage of time.
Chasidic philosophy develops this concept further. Abraham "advanced" into "his years." He put himself into the days that he lived; each of his days was filled with a deepening of his connection to G-d.
To explain: Any one of us who has to take tests knows what it is to cram. You try to cover an entire course in two weeks. Or in business, you know the end of the month is coming and you try to push in a few more sales to improve the bottom line.
There is something unnatural in such an approach. Try cramming the growth cycle of a crop on a farm: not working for most of the season and then plowing, sowing, and harvesting in a month. That wouldn't be very successful.
Well neither - in the long term - is cramming for anything else. What was remembered for the test is forgotten two weeks later. For a business to be maintained, sales must be steady.
The same thing applies spiritually. Too often, we cram. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, suddenly we get very involved. We like to focus on peak experiences. What Abraham teaches us is to take each day one day at a time, and to live it to the ultimate. Not to have occasional spiritual heights, but to relate to G-d earnestly each day, to take that day seriously and use it in the most complete way possible.
There may be some who think that living such a life is drab; they are afraid of consistency lest it become monotonous. But those who emulate Abraham's example appreciate the energy and vitality it brings. For in truth every day is filled with a variety of different experiences. When a person focuses his attention and relates to each of the events and every person he encounters thoughtfully, his life becomes filled with genuine color and variety. Each day contributes something different and new.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos In English. Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Unique Conference Call
by Rabbi Zushe Greenberg
Just a while ago, I took part in a telephone conference call involving 29 people. It was not a business venture, but a personal matter. Lines from the Ukraine, France, Alaska, Texas, New York and Solon, Ohio, buzzed to Israel to congratulate my mother on a milestone birthday.
What made this call so special was that it symbolized the profound blessings of a large family. All of the callers were my mother's children: - sons and daughters plus sons and daughters-in-law. Everyone had the opportunity to extend words of good wishes.
After this 25 minute congratulatory roll call, one of my sisters asked, "What's the secret of your success ? How did you manage to not only survive raising such a large family, thank G-d, but also raise such stable, happy, accomplished and self confident kids like us!?"
My mother chuckled at her "self-confidence," and in her non-assuming and practical manner, she insisted that it was no great feat. "You just take one day at a time," she stated, "and one child at a time, then do what needs to be done!"
We all demanded a better explanation. "How was it that you didn't worry about finances, space, and simply providing the basic needs like clothing and food?" another brother asked.
At this point my father entered the conversation "You're forgetting the full picture," he said, sharing a synopsis of his life story.
When my father was 12 years old, he was fleeing from Hitler in Rumania, and ended up in Communist Russia. There he suffered constant persecution for his religious beliefs, while at the same time was denied exit visas.
At age 19 he finally tried to cross the border to Poland. He was double-crossed as his "guide" delivered him straight to the Russian Police. He was sentenced to 25 years hard labor in the Siberian Prison Camps. When Stalin mercifully died seven years later, my father, and all the political prisoners were set free.
He never dreamed that he would survive these events, but he did. He also never dreamed that he would find a Jewish girl who shared his religions beliefs and was ready for the self-sacrifice necessary to raise an observant family in Communist Russia, but then he found my mother. In 1967, my family, myself included, received permission to leave the USSR, way before the Iron Curtain fell. We traveled to and settled in Israel.
"After all these miracles," my father concluded, "we should worry about a few pieces of bread? If G-d gave us the strength to survive all the hardships, surely He could give us the strength to provide the needs of our family." We all fell silent and thought about his philosophy.
Judaism teaches that children are the most cherished Divine blessing known to mankind. Not only are they a blessing, but tradition teaches us that every additional child brings a new flow of blessings to a family. Each child does not decrease from the material, financial and spiritual stability of the home, the family members actually benefit from the Divine blessings that each child brings.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said that it is unnecessary for us to take over G-d's bookkeeping and accounting to figure out how many children He is able to care for. "He who feeds and sustains the whole world," he said, "is able to take care of the children as well as the parents." And the matter of food supply in the world? What the food supply will be like tomorrow morning I cannot say. What I can say is that any starvation in this world today is not a matter of supply but of distribution. The solution lies in political decisions. One less child in suburban America will not help a single starving Somalian child.
Now that I have a wife and children of my own, I can truly appreciate the amazing dedication and self-sacrifice of my parents, as well as all those who are blessed with large families. I know that it takes laughter, tears, and long nights to raise each child; and I know the nachas, the pride, joy and happiness that each child brings. I truly admire those who willingly set aside the best years of their lives, and dedicate them to raising a generation of active, giving adults. Each of these future adults, will make their own unique contribution to the Jewish nation as well as to all of humanity. Each child is infinite in potential, absolutely beyond prediction. Every child has his or her own unduplicated gift to present to the world, and those that bring him or her into existence, are enriching humankind.
A Jewish woman, expecting her fifth child, was walking in her garden when her neighbor looked over, and called out, " What - another one ?? How many children are you planning to have?"
She had heard this question many times before. She smiled, and immediately replied, "Six Million!"
Rabbi Greenberg is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Solon, Ohio
What Do I Say?
In this "life the flap" book by Malky Goldberg, boys and girls open the flaps and discover exactly what to say throughout the day! Illustrated by Patti Argoff, published by HaChai.
During a terrible drought in the Land of Israel, two messengers are sent to the great Abba Chilkiya to ask him to pray for rain. What are the reasons for the wise man's unusual behavior? Most importantly, what is the secret of powerful prayer? Written by Leah Shollar, illustrated by Pesach Gerber, published by HaChai.
Continued from previous issue, from a letter dated 6th of Shevat 5731 
The expression of "yoke" in relation to accepting the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] in the daily life is to be understood in the sense that human nature makes it necessary to act on imperatives. For, human nature, and the Yetzer Horah [inclination toward evil], are such that an individual might easily succumb to temptation. Temptation is sweet at the beginning but bitter at the end. But human nature is such that an individual may disregard the bitter consequences because of the initial gratification.
We see, for example, that children, and very often also adults, may be warned that overindulgence in certain foods would be harmful to them, and make them sick later on so that for a period of time they might not be able to eat anything at all, yet they may nevertheless reject all restraint to gratify their immediate appetite or passion. In a like manner, G-d has given us the "yoke" of Torah and Mitzvos, telling us that whether one understands them or not, or whatever the temptation may be, one must carry out G-d's commandments unquestioningly.
There is a further point, and this is the most essential aspect of the concept of "yoke" of the Torah and Mitzvos. It is that although, as mentioned before, the Torah and Mitzvos have been given for the benefit of man, both in this life and in Eternal Life, there is an infinitely greater quality with which G-d has endowed the Torah and Mitzvos, namely the quality of uniting man with G-d, that is, the created with the Creator, who would otherwise have nothing in common. For, by giving man a set of Mitzvos to carry out in his daily life, G-d has made it possible for man thereby to attach himself to his Creator, and transcend the limitations of a limited being, living in a limited world.
The Torah and Mitzvos constitute the bridge which spans over the abyss separating the Creator from the created, enabling the human being to rise and attach himself to G-dliness. Of course this quality can be attained if the person observes the Torah and Mitzvos not because of the reward that goes with it for the body, or for the soul, or for both, but purely because they are the Will and Command of the Holy One blessed be He. For this reason also, the text of the Berocho [blessing] which a Jew makes before fulfilling a Mitzvah does not mention the utility of the Mitzvah, but rather the fact that "He has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us."
Much more can be said in connection with such a profound subject, but I trust that the above lines, though limited in quantity, have sufficient content to illuminate the true aspects of the matter. Besides, should you wish to discuss these matters further, you surely have friends among Anash [Lubavitcher Chasidim] in London who will be glad to enlighten you.
Finally, I would like to say that the fact that you have had some doubts and uncertainties, should not discourage you at all. Indeed, the Torah desires a person to utilize all his capacities, including his mind and intelligence, in the service of G-d as long as the approach is right, namely accepting the Torah and Mitzvos first. It is quite natural and even desirable that one should understand everything that is within one's mental grasp. In your case this is of additional significance, because you have an opportunity to influence and benefit other people who have the same bent of mind as you.
In the light of the above, you will also understand my answer in the matter of the Shidduch [marriage match], that in my opinion, as has been said before, namely that it is a suitable Shidduch, and may it be in a happy and auspicious hour, for a Binyan Adei Ad [eternal edifice], on the foundation of the Torah and the Mitzvos with complete commitment to the Torah and Mitzvos in the spirit of the Berocho "Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us."
This will, as a matter of course, also be the channel for good health, both for the Neshomo [soul] and the body, and all desirable benefits - though of what value are all rewards by comparison to the achievement of "Israel and the Holy One blessed be He, through the Torah, are all one."
24 Cheshvan, 5766 - November 26, 2005
Positive Mitzva 219: Staying married to a defamed wife
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 22:19) "And she shall be his wife" If a man accuses his wife of not conducting herself properly and, therefore, wants to divorce her, the court must investigate his claim. If his complaint is proven false, he is commanded to remain married to her for the rest of their lives. It is hoped that he will appease her and that she will forgive him. They will then put effort into recreating a pleasant marriage together.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Torah portion is Chayei Sara - the Life of Sara. Generally, the name of the Torah portion is taken from the first few words of that portion, and it reveals much about the content of the portion.
This week's portion, however, at first glance seems to be different. It speaks of Sara's death and Abraham's purchase of a proper burial spot for her. It also discusses that Abraham sent his trusted disciple Eliezer on the mission of finding a wife for Isaac, and the subsequent marriage of Isaac to Rebecca. Why, then, is this portion, which deals not one iota with Sara's life here on earth, called the Life of Sara?
To this question the Rebbe brings the most exquisite answer. When speaking about life, life in its truest sense, and certainly the life of the first Matriarch of our people, we speak not of the transitory life of this world. We are, rather, indicating eternal life.
When a child continues in the righteous ways of his parents, the spiritual influence of the parents continues and endures forever, as the Talmud teaches: "As long as the offspring are alive, he is alive." As long as the offspring continue in the path of their parents, the parents are alive.
Since Isaac and his wife Rebecca followed in the footsteps of Sara, Sara truly remained "alive" in the most accurate sense.
May we all merit to have our children follow in the path of our righteous Matriarch Sara, thus assuring eternal life for ourselves and for them.
And Sara died in Kiryat Arba, the same is Hebron" (Gen. 23:2)
It was called Kiryat Arba, the City of Four, because of the four pairs that were buried there; Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah.
Four hundred shekels of silver, in negotiable currency (Gen. 23:16)
The Torah foresaw the future difficulties Jews would have defending their rights to their holy sites. The Torah therefore devotes much time detailing the transaction by which Abraham acquired the Cave of Machpela, and the exact sum he spent to purchase it.
Who ruled over all that he had (Gen. 24:2)
These words refer to Abraham and indicate just how great a person he was. Though Abraham amassed wealth, he did not become like some other wealthy people for whom money becomes the only motivating factor in their lives. Abraham ruled over his possessions, and not the other way around.
And Abraham was old, well on in days (Gen. 24:1)
In Hebrew, the phrase "well on in days" is "ba bayamim" - literally, "he had come with his days." Abraham's life was full, and he utilized every day to the fullest; he did not waste even one day. A hint as to how we can achieve this ourselves is found in the letters of the word "bayamim" - "ba" and "yamim." "Ba" (spelled with a bait in Hebrew) means two. Abraham always had the image of two distinct days in his mind - the day of birth and the day of death. We must keep in mind why we are born and the fact that we will ultimately be accountable for our deeds after we die.
The man took a gold earring, weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets. (Gen. 24:22)
The commentator Rashi explains that the half-shekel alludes to the half-shekel that the Jews donated for each person, while the two bracelets allude to the two Tablets containing the Ten Commandments. With these gifts, Eliezer implied that when establishing a Jewish home, Torah and the performance of mitzvot form its pillars. The half-shekel illustrates the mitzva of charity, while the two bracelets, symbolizing the two Tablets, allude to the Torah itself, which is included in the Ten Commandments.
Rabbi Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl and his family lived in dire poverty. One day, a chasid who came to have an audience with this great Rebbe, brought him a gift of three hundred bank-note rubles.
The Rebbe's assistant and family were delighted at the gift; at long last they would be able to pay off some of the immense debts.
Another twenty or thirty chasidim entered the Rebbe's room after this generous chasid left. Reb Nochum locked himself in his room after the evening prayers. Some time later, he opened the door and asked to see one of the chasidim who had had an audience earlier.
Finally, when all visitors had left, the assistant came in to ask for money to pay the household expenses. Knowing of the three hundred rubles, he was sure that he would be able to pay off some of the outstanding debts.
Rabbi Nochum kept one drawer for money that was donated towards the upkeep of his family and a separate drawer for donations to charity that people gave when they asked the Rebbe to pray for them. The Rebbe opened up the first drawer, and the assistant was amazed to see that there were no bank notes in the drawer at all-only a few coins! Rabbi Nochum gave him all the coins, including three golden coins he found underneath. Yet, there was less than one hundred bank note rubles!
The Rebbe noticed the distress in the assistant's face and asked, "Why are you so sad? The Almighty, who provides sustenance to all living creatures has been so kind to us; many of our Jewish brothers from various places have labored and toiled, and have brought us all this money." The assistant could contain himself no longer. The heavy debts and the terrible poverty rampant in Rabbi Nochum's house seared his heart. Almost as if by themselves the words tumbled from his lips. "But where are the 300 rubles? With that money we could pay at least part of the debts!"
Rabbi Menachem Nochum replied: "When I first received to 300 rubles, I wondered, why I deserved such a large sum. Then I became happy, thinking I had found favor in G-d's eyes. However, as I began to think more deeply about it, it occurred to me that perhaps this material affluence would be in place of some spiritual affluence.
"Among the chasidim who came to see me today was one who poured out his heart to me. He had not paid tuition for his children for almost a year. In addition, he owed eight months rent and would be evicted if he did not pay. And, his oldest daughter had become engaged and he no money with which to make the wedding.
"When I heard all these woes it occurred to me that perhaps G-d had given me the merit to be in charge of distributing charity, and that the large sum was given to me to participate in these three great mitzvot - Torah-study, saving a family from eviction, and dowering a bride. I asked the chasid how much all his debts came to, including the cost of the wedding, and I saw that the sum was indeed exactly the same - 300 rubles! No sooner had I decided to give the whole sum to the chasid, than the thought came to mind: Is it right to give such a large sum to one individual? Six families could live on this money; would it not be fairer to divide it amongst them?!
"Then I had the idea, to divide the money amongst six families, one of those families being my own. Now, which thought was correct? I decided that if the second thought had been the correct one, it would have come to me immediately. But, since it came later, it was the advice of my Evil inclination.
"So I took the advice of the Good Inclination; I sent for the chasid and gave him the 300 rubles."
The Talmud (Suka, 52a) states: "In the time to come, G-d will bring the Evil Inclination and slaughter it" This shechita - slaughtering for kosher consumption - implies the removal of the evil within the Evil Inclination, so that what is left is a holy angel. In this way, the "scoundrel" is transposed and transformed into "a white one".
(Keser Shem Tov, sec. 265)