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When someone says, "Do me a favor," how do you react? Do you jump at the opportunity or do you think to yourself, "Uh oh, here it comes. I can't say 'no' but this is going to be a major inconvenience...."?
The next time, before you respond to a request for a favor, consider the following: The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, taught that the whole reason for a person being put in this world just might be in order to do another Jew a favor!
A favor doesn't have to involve a long-term investment of time, energy or money. It can and does include any act of kindness one might do for another.
Doing a favor for someone connects us to that person in a very intrinsic way. This can be understood by considering how Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, expanded on the Baal Shem Tov's teaching. He said that when one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls that will descend from him until the end of all generations.
Isn't that amazing and mind-boggling! When you lend a friend money, help someone find a job, go shopping for a shut-in, offer a cold glass of water to the man who came to collect the old furniture for the local thrift shop, or even when you do something as simple as helping a little old lady cross the street, you are doing something that has an effect not only on the person, but on his children and his children's children.
If this is true with monetary or corporeal favors, how much more so is it true when it comes to spiritual favors. But what kind of "spiritual favors" might be within the reach of every person?
Do you know how to read Hebrew? Not necessarily understand it but at least read it? There are many young people and adults who can't read Hebrew but want to learn. You can teach someone!
Or you can invite someone who has never experienced Shabbat to celebrate it with you.
You can schlep someone along to a class at your local Chabad Center.
Or you can tell the new Jewish family on the block about the local Jewish summer camp for their children.
Do any of these possible suggestions click? If not, here's something that everyone reading L'Chaim can do. Share this copy of L'Chaim with one of your friends! We're not trying to toot our own horn, but surely you know someone who would benefit form reading a few of the articles.
Do yourself a favor! The next time someone asks you to do him a favor - or even before - give him or her a helping hand materially or spiritually. That favor might just be the reason why you were born!
In this week's Torah portion, Nasso, we find the command to count the Levites - the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari. The actual count of these people was taken only once, during the second year of their 40-year wanderings. What are we to learn from the Torah's inclusion of this commandment?
Why did the Jewish people had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness? When the spies gave a negative report about the land of Israel, the Jewish people were reluctant to enter the land G-d had promised them. G-d, therefore, punished the Jews with 40-years of wandering and decreed that those who had been unwilling to enter Israel would not be allowed to do so. But why did G-d choose a wilderness for their wandering, as opposed to another location?
A wilderness is uninhabited by man, and indeed, the desert the Jewish People wandered through is described as "a great and terrible wilderness: snakes, poisonous serpents and scorpions, and thirst without water to quench." The Children of Israel, through their travels, were charged with transforming that wilderness and purifying the negative forces that still had their hold on the Jewish People. The cloud that preceded them as they traveled destroyed the snakes, serpents and beasts, which threatened their existence. By overcoming the obstacles in the desert the Jews brought light and G-dliness into the world. The uninhabited wilderness became the dwelling place, for 40 years, of the millions of Jews who had just left Egypt, and the "unsown land" was blessed with water from Miriam's well, causing all kinds of plants and trees to flourish.
The commandment to count the Levites charged with transporting the Sanctuary underscored and gave spiritual strength to this higher purpose - the transformation of a wilderness into an inhabited land. This, too, is the responsibility of every Jew, in every era, no matter where he may live, to transform and elevate his surrounding by infusing them with holiness. If at times it appears that insurmountable forces surround us, we are to remember the mission with which we have been charged and the special G-dly powers we are given to accomplish it. Just as the Children of Israel traveled from place to place by Divine command, so too is every Jew, by Divine Providence, faced with precisely those obstacles and challenges he is charged with overcoming. The Torah assures us that through our actions, we can succeed in turning any wilderness into a flourishing dwelling place for G-d.
We also learn from the fact that the Levites were not counted or required to carry the Sanctuary until the age of 30, that it is never too late try to improve oneself. Even if our behavior has been less than admirable and undisciplined - in the category of "wilderness" - we must never become dejected and despair of achieving our spiritual goals. Once the decision to improve is made, G-d gives us the strength to serve Him, purify ourselves, and uncover the G-dliness concealed within.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The following essays were culled from dozens by seniors at SUNY Binghamton that appeared in The Chai Times, a publication of the Chabad House of Binghamton.
Jeremy Zenilman - Future plans: Law School
How can you sum up four years - an entirely new life built in a new city - in a couple of words? There is one word that is perfect. Community. The Chabad House has built a community in the middle of nowhere, an oasis in the desert. Many graduating seniors, both this year and in years past or to come, owe everything to Chabad. It's where they meet their friends, where they learn and where they find peace and comfort. When we came four years ago, we knew next to nothing and no one. We had come from the comfort and security of high school and home to a new place with few, if any, friends.
And then we came to Chabad. The people, both staff and students, opened their arms to us. In their house we made friends with each other, had a good meal, and left knowing that Binghamton, that life away from home, couldn't be that bad. Not when special people and that special institution was down the road. Since then, our friendships have grown, with each other and with newer students, whom we met at Chabad.
The story could go for any senior, but it is especially true for me. The people I met at Chabad and the things I experienced there truly made my four years in Binghamton University the best they could possibly be. I also count myself as fortunate in having gotten to know the Slonims, the Creegers and various rabbinic interns especially well. I have also had a chance to give something back to the community, by running events like the 2006 Purim Carnival, and helping out with numerous others. I've learned about the Rebbe's philosophy of reaching out; and I've found that this Chabad House is perhaps one of the strongest manifestations of that philosophy in the country. For that opportunity, and everything that Chabad has given me, I am truly grateful.
Tanya S. Arditi - Future Plans: Yale Law
If I had never set foot in Chabad House at Binghamton, I would be graduating religiously empty. As a Conservative, Sephardi, South American Jew, I could not see myself attending Shabbat services at Chabad. However, some people had the great idea of dragging me in - and I haven't stopped attending ever since. That was over a year ago. Then, I needed to have my friends with me whenever I went because I was afraid of being alone. Nowadays, I go there to meet my friends, and once there I am never alone! Had I never gone there I wouldn't have discovered the pleasure and extreme joy I now get from tapping into my spiritual side - and I wouldn't have rediscovered and resumed my spiritual journey.
As a Jew, my most memorable and meaningful, as well as enjoyable events at the Chabad House was, is, and will continue to be the Shabbat Services: I love the songs, I love the atmosphere, I love the salads, and last but certainly not least, I LOVE the birthday brownies!
I truly believe that Chabad House plays an extremely large role in the overall Jewish experience here at Binghamton University. Chabad is the Jewish safe-haven: When everything else is closed, the doors to the House are still open. This is the same for Rabbi Slonim and Rivkah Slonim: When nobody else will listen, you can probably find great inspiration from them. I don't know what I will do next year without my Chabad House, but I know I'll attempt to recreate the feeling of Joyful Jewishness that I get through Chabad in my own home.
After having had such a hard time setting foot into the House, I'm finding it very hard to leave...
Rebecca Rodbart - Future Plans: Year in Israel
Growing up in Mount Sinai, a small town in Suffolk County, Long Island (NY) that most people have never heard of, my exposure to a Jewish community was limited. Sure, at my public school there were some Jewish kids, but I never had that sense of closeness with people of the same background as me, aside from home and my small Chabad shul.
When I was looking into colleges, the percentage of Jews attending the school was not a major part of my decision. I remember when I came to look at the school, my parents and I stopped by the Chabad House to meet the Rabbi and Rivky. I am sure they were really busy, but they took time out to make us feel welcome.
The first Shabbat I went to Chabad I was greeted personally. I was so amazed that they remembered my name and where I was from! Over the years I have seen it repeated countless times. The Chabad House is the only place that can host 300 people and still make every single person feel welcome.
The first Shabbat I was one of the people who left after the soup was served. But for the following four years I enjoyed staying until the end and looked forward to every Shabbat. Looking back on my experience now that I am about to leave here, I can honestly say that these four years are irreplaceable, due in large part to Chabad. I have definitely grown as a person, have met some incredible people, and will really miss this place. I would like to thank the Chabad House for playing such a major role in my life for the last four years and for providing so many enriching opportunities for students like me to enhance our college and Jewish experience. I am leaving Binghamton University with a new appreciation of how a connection to a Jewish community can enhance my life. I just want to wish everyone good luck in whatever path life leads you, and may we all be blessed with nothing but happiness.
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Peace in the Home
Translated and adapted from letters of the Rebbe
The crucial importance of Shalom Bayis [peace and harmony in the relationship between husband and wife] and the fateful consequences of the lack of Shalom Bayis is to be understood from the following statements of our Sages, of blessed memory:
- G-d decrees that His (Ineffable) Name be effaced by placing it in water [in the instance of a Sotah] so that peace can be brought about between husband and wife.
- When the opposite occurs [i.e., in the case of a divorce, G-d forbid] - the Mizbei'ach, the Altar in the Holy Temple, sheds tears, which is to say, that this act of divorce has significant impact even on that special place [i.e., the Altar] where atonement is granted and prayers are recited for the peace of the entire Jewish people. Divorce is thus not merely a personal matter between two individuals [it has a cosmic effect as well].
Notwithstanding the above, our Sages of blessed memory have stated, "No two people think alike." In other words, despite the above natural differences of opinions between individuals, it is still possible and indeed necessary that there be true peace between each and every Jew.
This is surely so with regard to peace between husband and wife, whose conduct, when in accordance with Torah and mitzvos (commandments), is so meritorious that it is described by our Sages of blessed memory as bringing about that the "Divine Presence resides in their midst."
Likutei Sichos, Vol. XXIV, p. 467
In reply to your notifying me about your upcoming birthday: I hereby bless you that your mazel increase and that you may be able to make an ample living in an easy manner, providing sustenance for your wife and all your children (they should live) in a manner of tranquility - tranquility of body and tranquility of soul.
May G-d also strengthen your imprisoned divine soul, that it be able to bring about in actuality Shalom Bayis in your household; it continuously astonishes me how you fail to see something that is obvious to all, namely, that your conduct - with regard to failing to work on Shalom Bayis - is the product of the evil inclination, which continues to gain strength regarding this matter.
I have already told you numerous times - and I will state it once again - that it is imperative that you make a supreme effort to achieve Shalom Bayis between you and your wife, particularly so as my father-in-law, the (previous) Rebbe, voiced his agreement concerning your shidduch (match).
Also known are the sayings of our Sages that women are of a more emotional nature ("Nashim da'atan kalah") and "their tears flow more easily" [i.e., they have a more sensitive nature], for which reason you should be the one who gives in, particularly regarding material matters.
Moreover, if at all times during our history our Sages have spoken glowingly about the magnitude of Shalom Bayis, then it is surely so during the time of the eve of the holy Shabbos - and the entire Jewish nation is now in a situation of "the eve of Shabbos after mid-day," as we draw ever closer to the end of our exile and the arrival of Moshiach.
It is self-understood that nowadays the difficulties and concealments are parti-cularly severe regarding Shalom Bayis, for - as known - "Peace is magnificent" and the entire Torah is one whose "ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its pathways are peace."
These difficulties are particularly acute now, in the final exile, as exile itself is a result of the lack of shalom, as our Sages state in Yoma 9b.
Thus, the closer we come to the conclusion of exile, the greater is the opposition from the "opposing forces" which seek to prevent bringing about shalom in the world as a whole, and particularly between husband and wife. For husband and wife below, in this world, are the counterpart to the supernal aspect of "husband" and "wife."
Nevertheless, these difficulties notwithstanding, we have been assured that we were granted the strength to overcome these difficulties ("L'fum gamla shichneh"). Surely, then, we are granted the power and the ability to withstand this test.
Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 433
From Eternal Joy translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
From where does the custom of eating a special meal - Melave Malka - come?
It is customary on Saturday evening to eat a meal in honor of the departure of Shabbat known as Melave Malka - literally, "Escorting the (Shabbat) Queen." As King David was foretold that he would pass away on Shabbat, each Saturday evening he had a meal celebrating another week of life. According to our Sages, the luz bone - from which the body will be formed at the time of the resurrection of the dead - is nourished only from food eaten at the Melave Malka. The Talmud states that eating something hot on Saturday evening is medicinal and helps as an antidote for depression. Another source explains that telling a story about the Baal Shem Tov [some say any righteous person] is beneficial for livelihood.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This past Shabbat we read the sixth and final chapter of Pirkei Avot. So this Shabbat afternoon, we begin the cycle one again with the first chapter of Pirkei Avot.
The second Mishna in Pirkei Avot says: Shimon the Righteous...used to say: "The world stands on three things - on the study of Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness."
In Hebrew, the word for "world" - olam - is similar to the word for "concealment" - helem - for G-dliness and spirituality are "concealed" in this world. Only by removing the concealment can we reveal the G-dly light, which is hidden therein.
Every person has to say to himself and behave in a manner befitting the phrase, "The world was created for me." Using the above connection between world and concealment, one can also say, "The concealment of G-dliness was also created for me." This leads a person to work his utmost to try and reverse the concealment of G-dliness.
How can this be done? Through the study of Torah, the service of G-d (prayer), and deeds of kindness.
A person is called a microcosm. Through working in these three above-mentioned areas one's microcosm also stands and exists.
In Psalms, King David cried out, "Redeem my soul in peace." On this verse the Talmud comments, "G-d said, 'Anyone who involves himself in the study of Torah, deeds of kindness and prays with the community, I count it as if he redeemed me and my children from amongst the nations of the world.'"
Through engaging ourselves in these three areas of G-dly service every individual will merit his own personal redemption. And this will certainly affect the actions and standing of the world at large, for the entire world functions according to G-d's will.
You shall take a count (lit. "Lift the heads") of the sons of Gershon (Num. 4:22)
The "head symbolizes the brain and our higher faculties, which we use to learn and understand G-d's wisdom. The Torah tells us to "lift our heads" - to constantly strive to learn more and more, for by doing so we will simultaneously "lift up" the rest of the "body," those commandments we perform with our other limbs.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Because the service of the Sanctuary belonged to them; they were to bear it upon their shoulders (Num. 7:9)
Worshipping G-d properly is hard work, requiring much effort and "elbow grease." The perfection of G-dly service does not just happen by itself. "If one says, 'I have not toiled, yet I have succeeded' - do not believe him."
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
If any man or woman commits a sin against a fellow man, thereby committing an offense against G-d (Num. 5:6)
For most sins which the Torah demands an offering, a small, inexpensive one is sufficient for atonement. The exception to this rule is the guilt offering, which was brought for the sin of stealing. This offering had to be worth at least two selaim. Why? Other sins are committed only against G-d; stealing is a double offense, committed against man and G-d alike. The atonement offering, therefore, had to be more costly.
And every man's holy things shall be his. Whatever he gives the priest shall belong to him (Num. 5:10)
Someone once asked the fabulously wealthy Rothschild from Frankfurt exactly how much he was worth. Rothschild responded by quoting the verse, "And every man's holy things shall be his." "The only riches a person can count as truly belonging to him," he said, "are those he has used for good and holy purposes, such as giving charity and supporting Torah institutions. No one can take these away. The same cannot be said, however, for the rest of one's fortune..." (Fun Unzer Alten Otzar)
The great scholar, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, was honored and loved by all. He was often invited to the Caesar's palace, for the ruler and his staff delighted in listening to this great sage's wisdom.
Despite his wisdom and knowledge, Rabbi Yehoshua was often the object of ridicule by those who didn't know him; he was hunchbacked and crippled. But, even for those who were disgusted by his appearance, once he began to speak, they were amazed with his sharp mind and great understanding.
The Roman Caesar had a beautiful young daughter who was quite conceited and spoiled. She ridiculed and abused her servants, and was accustomed to treating important guests to her father's palace in the same manner.
One day, she entered the hall where her father, some dignitaries and Rabbi Yehoshua were debating. She watched in amazement at the honor accorded Rabbi Yehoshua. Arrogantly, she called out, "Such glorious wisdom in such a disgusting vessel."
Rabbi Yehoshua, who was not surprised by her words, answered in a joking manner, "Tell me, please. In what kind of container does your father keep his wine? Not in earthen vessels?"
The Caesar's daughter was undoubtedly beautiful, but she wasn't very bright. She didn't understand what Rabbi Yehoshua was hinting, and answered, "What else should the wine be kept in?"
Said Rabbi Yehoshua, "Everyone keeps their wine in clay. If you are so important, shouldn't your wine be kept in silver and gold?" Rabbi Yehoshua was certain the foolish girl would understand he was joking.
But the girl, in all her cockiness, assumed she understood the rabbi's point and decided to broach the subject with her father. She convinced the Caesar that their wine shouldn't be kept in ordinary vessels, and against his better judgement he ordered the servants to transfer the wine to gold and silver urns.
At first, no one noticed a change in the wine. But after a while, the wine spoiled. The servants, who were in charge of the wine, approached the Caesar. "Our master, all the wine has become vinegar! The whole time that it was stored in clay, there was never such a problem!"
The Caesar was annoyed that his good wine was ruined, but he was further distressed that he had listened to his daughter. He called her in and asked where she had gotten this idea.
"Who?" she answered, "Rabbi Yehoshua. You all think he's so smart. He said we shouldn't store the wine in such simple containers."
The Caesar contemplated. Didn't the wise Rabbi Yehoshua know what would happened to the wine in such containers? Maybe be was trying to hurt the Caesar? But didn't he know he'd be punished?
The Caesar called for Rabbi Yehoshua and sternly asked, "Why did you advise my daughter to put the wine in gold and silver vessels?"
"Just as she spoke to me, I spoke to her," Rabbi Yehoshua explained. "She told me it was a pity that such glorious wisdom was in such an ugly vessel. I answered her, that good wine, even that belonging to the Caesar, is kept in simple vessels. How was I to know that she wouldn't understand the simple meaning of my words?"
The Caesar understood that he had been foolish to listen to his daughter, but he didn't want to admit that his daughter had been wrong. He thought, then said, "Surely there are wise people who are also attractive."
Answered Rabbi Yehoshua, "If they weren't attractive, they would be even wiser. They would use all their energy and time for studying and increasing their wisdom. Some who are attractive become conceited with their beauty, and they never become wise."
The Caesar wasn't stupid. He understood what Rabbi Yehoshua was hinting about his daughter. He decided it was better not to discuss the matter any more, and bid Rabbi Yehoshua good-bye.
All the nations on the face of the earth must know: Our bodies alone have been handed over into exile to be ruled by the nations of the world, but not our souls... we must openly declare for all to hear, that with regard to everything involving our religion - the Torah of the people of Israel, with its commandments and customs - no one is going to impose his views on us, and no force has the right to subjugate us.
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)