A Cholent Shabbat | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
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What's cholent? Basically, it's a stew that cooks overnight so there can be a hot meal on Shabbat day. The idea is this: the Torah tells us not to light a fire or cook on Shabbat. But we are allowed to let something cook by itself, or to keep warm if it is already cooked.
The Sages in the Talmud and the later legal responsa explain how to do this in accordance with Jewish law: essentially the fire must be lit and the food at least partially cooked before Shabbat starts. In addition, the fire has to be covered so that one wouldn't adjust the flame higher or lower. Adjusting the flame would, of course, be an act of cooking.
On Shabbat in many observant homes (at least in the winter!) you'll see a piece of metal (known in Yiddish as a blech) covering the stove top, and a pot with cholent sitting on top.
Why all of this preamble? To share with you an incident that recently took place containing an insightful lesson:
Someone was sponsoring a "Kiddush" in the synagogue. After services there was going to be a lunch in honor of a wedding.
Naturally, the family made sure there would be a big cholent, specially spiced, with lots of stew meat, potatoes, and other good things. Everyone walking by the kitchen breathed in the smell and their mouths watered.
If a cholent is cooking and there's not enough water, it'll dry out and maybe even burn. And so about halfway through services, the aroma changed, ever so slightly. You know that smell when something's just a little bit overcooked, when it's not really burned but if left on too much longer it will burn?
So what was the sponsor of the Kiddush to do? If he left the cholent on the stove until after services, it might burn. If he took it off now, it wouldn't be hot by the time services were over. While a piping hot cholent, even in the summer, is delicious, cold stew is, well...
For the rest of the service, he ran back and forth between the kitchen and the sanctuary.
He managed to time it just right. He took the pot off the fire before the cholent burned, and it remained hot enough until it was served. It was a great Kiddush and a delicious cholent.
Afterwards, the sponsor told the rabbi. "Oy, I just had a cholent Shabbat."
The rabbi just smiled and said, "That might be a good thing."
"What do you mean?" the man asked. "I was so worried about the cholent, I didn't concentrate on my prayers at all. I barely read the words."
"Well," the rabbi said. "Why were you worrying about the cholent? Were worrying because you spent a lot of money, or that you might be embarrassed? That's one kind of cholent Shabbat. And yes, you should have forgotten about the cholent and concentrated on your prayers.
"But if you were worried that someone else might be embarrassed - say the bride and groom - or you were worried about the visitors or about the poor people who, hearing there'd be a sponsored Kiddush, came for lunch and now might not have something to eat - well, then, that's a different thing altogether. And that," concluded the rabbi, "is what I would call a proper cholent Shabbat."
This week's Torah portion, Balak, opens with the Children of Israel encamped near the borders of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, hired the famous gentile prophet, Bilaam, to curse the Jews and cause their defeat, but G-d frustrated his evil intentions. Instead of delivering curses, Bilaam was overcome with a Divinely inspired mood of prophecy and perception of goodness. Against his will, Bilaam heaped praise and blessings upon those he had intended to curse.
Our Sages taught that Bilaam's prophecy alludes to the end of days and the Final Redemption that will take place when Moshiach comes. "There shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel," Bilaam begins. Maimonides explained that Bilaam's prophecy refers to two anointed kings - King David, who saved Israel from her enemies, and the last anointed Jewish king, Moshiach, who will arise and save Israel in the end of days.
By specifying that the Torah mentions Moshiach "in the portion of Bilaam," Maimonides alludes to the underlying concept of transformation which will see its culmination in the Messianic Era. "And G-d, your L-rd, did not desire to listen to Bilaam. And G-d, your L-rd, transformed the curse into a blessing." Just as Bilaam's evil intentions were transformed into benedictions, so too shall the inner positive nature of human suffering be revealed when Moshiach comes.
The Torah portion of Balak generally coincides with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz which commemorates the breaching of the walls around Jerusalem, the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, and inaugurates a three-week period of mourning. Yet, according to Maimonides, in the Era of Redemption, "all fasts will be nullified... and will be transformed into festivals and days of joy and rejoicing." When Moshiach comes, the entire experience of exile will be seen from a different perspective. The inner good of the exile will be revealed and appreciated as a positive phenomenon.
The coming of Moshiach will theretofore restore to the Jewish people a sense of completeness which cannot be experienced while in exile. Just as his ancestor King David did before him, Moshiach will remove our spiritual blinders and enable us to live a fully integrated Jewish life.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Every Jew A Survivor
An interview with the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau-a child survivor of Auschwitz-following the commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation at Auschwitz.
Q. What was it like to say Kaddish at Auschwitz?
R'L: This is the largest graveyard in the history of the Jewish people. When I said Kaddish, I did not see the Presidents of Israel, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, France, or Vice President Cheney, all of whom were standing before me. My eyes were closed, and I saw my precious brothers and sisters, coming off the train, and being subjected to the "selection" of the notorious Mengele. I saw them have everything taken away, and being led to the gas chambers. I could hear them saying Sh'ma, and singing Ani Ma'amin (I believe). I saw my father in Treblinka at the entrance to the gas chambers, together with 28,000 Jews from my home town of Pietrekov, and at their side thousands more from neighboring Parshov. They lived as one and died as one. In the name of all the survivors I said for the martyrs "Yisgadal Beyiskadash Shmai Raboh..."
Q. What is your message for today's youth?
R'L: In 1982, I visited New York as the Chief Rabbi of Netanya. I was scheduled to meet with then Mayor Ed Koch. My brother Naftali, who at the time served as Israel's Consul General in New York, prepped me for the meeting. He told me about the Mayor's background, born in the Bronx etc. When I met the Mayor, he extended his hand and said, "I know you are a survivor, I too am a survivor." I wondered how a born and bred New Yorker comes to be a survivor. Mayor Koch, as if reading my mind said: "It's true that I was born in this great city of which I now serve as Mayor, but a few years ago I was invited to tour the large cities in Germany. I was taken to a museum in Berlin, and saw a huge globe, that was once Hitler's. I noticed small numbers written in black all over the globe, and asked as to their significance. I was told that when Hitler rose to power, he asked his advisers to research the number of Jews in every country throughout the world. Even Albania had a number written on it: one. On the United States was written 5,500,000. His objective, his "final solution," was the complete annihilation of the Jewish people. Among the 5,500,000 Jews in America targeted on Hitler's globe was a young boy called Ed Koch. So I too am a survivor. If the Nazi beasts had not been defeated in Europe, world Jewry world have suffered the same fate as the six million."
I thanked the Mayor for his words, and I repeat them often, especially to the younger generation. Our Sages say: "In every generation one must consider oneself as having left Egypt." In our generation everyone must consider himself a survivor. Yes you are two, or three generations later, but world you be alive, had Hitler gotten his way?!
Q. In terms of numbers, assimilation, is proving more costly to Jewish life than the holocaust in Europe. How do we alert world Jewry to this?
R'L: Only through Jewish education. And in this regard Chabad are unparalleled pioneers. Everyone needs to learn from Chabad's global outreach effort through the Rebbe's emissaries that take them to the remotest Jewish community on the planet.
I tell people that assimilation is tantamount to handing Hitler victory (G-d forbid). Assimilation and intermarriage not only affect the lives of the present, but it cuts off future generations of Jews. Precisely the objective of the "final solution" So if you think that the Nazis deserve victory, go ahead. But I know there's not a Jew in the world who would concede that. The ultimate victory over Nazism is Jewish continuity, and Jewish continuity means Jewish education.
Q. Together with you at the commemoration was your brother Naftali. Could you share with us some words you shared with each other?
R'L: Over and again we asked ourselves, how did we survive this? The cold, the hunger, the persecution, the humiliation, the separation from each other. I was in block 8 and he in block 52. The problems didn't end after liberation. My brother contracted typhus, and was without recognition for days. We thought he would never recover, as was the fate of 60% of the survivors of Buchenwald. And here we are, with homes and families to return to. Words fail to express the profound sense of being a living miracle.
Q. In talking to other survivors, did you hear anything you didn't yet know?
R'L: But I want to mention something significant I noticed. In the past many survivors had distanced themselves from Jewish life, but many related how lately they have found themselves looking to reconnect to their roots. This is a widespread phenomenon that for some reason isn't being reported. Maybe it's age, maybe it's the anticipation of the final judgment day, or perhaps it's that the further you stand from the mountain, the better you see it, the broader your perspective. Whatever the reason, the long abandoned Shabbos, tefilin and tallis are being rediscovered. They don't want to drown in the waters of secularism and cynicism, with a whole body and a lost soul, unlike those who perished with their bodies burnt, but their souls intact. They are looking to reconnect to their souls.
Q. Can this commemoration be used to inspire the Jew of today?
R'L: Certainly. This memory needs to unify the Jewish people. The perpetrators of the holocaust did not differentiate between one Jew and another. Learned or ignorant, more observant, less observant, they were all one in their deaths by the Nazis. The lesson is abundantly clear: If we are all Jews who died as one, we are obligated to live as one. We need to feel how we are all "areivim" (responsible) for one another. As the Rebbe once commented, the word "areivim" can mean not only responsible but sweetness in each other.
Translated and adapted from the original Hebrew version in Kfar Chabad, by Rabbi Ruvi New. Reprinted with permission of Inside Out Magazine.
Women of Today...
Join Jewish women around the world in a show of unity to bring the long awaited Redemption - a time of world peace and personal peace, prosperity, knowledge and good health. Gather with family or friends, at home or in the synagogue, on Saturday, July 8. Study Torah, share hopes, pray for the healing of those in need, laugh together, be one. To get a study-guide or for more info email firstname.lastname@example.org
To the Esteemed Faculty Members of Cornell University and Ithaca College, Signatories to Letter of June 1, 1986
This is in reply to your above mentioned letter, in which you describe the hitherto highly successful Chabad activities in your community and express deep concern that they be continued, etc...
I was particularly gratified to note how closely you have been involved with the Chabad activities in your community. Your profound concern for the future of Yiddishkeit among your students and in the community at large, gives me the confidence that you, on your part, will do your utmost to ensure the continuation of these activities and their steady expansion.
I trust you do not underestimate your personal inherent in your respective prominent positions in the community and, especially among the academic youth. It is a prevalent experience, human nature being what it is, that students are often strongly influenced by the example of their professor's everyday life and conduct regardless of the academic field that brought them together.
This being so, each of you will surely readily recognize your special responsibility - and extraordinary z'chus (merit) that Hashem has given you, individually and as a group, to help the young people who are fortunate to be exposed to your influence, to reinforce their identity with our Jewish people and its eternal heritage; and, with emphasis on the basic principle of Yiddishkeit that "the essential thing is the deed," to actually strengthen their commitment to the way of the Torah and mitzvot in their personal life and conduct.
Needless to say, Hashem does not bestow a responsibility on anyone without providing the ability to carry it out in the fullest measure, with joy and gladness of heart.
Apropos of the upcoming month of Tammuz, the month of geula of my father-in-law, the Rebbe of saintly memory, I trust you know the history and lasting significance of this anniversary (12th -13th of Tammuz).
The lifelong example of his real mesiras nefesh that permeated all his activities in his native land and beyond, including the last decade of his life in the USA, is a source of inspiration and strength to all of us who are privileged to be associated with, and continue, his sacred work.
Indeed, we have his assurance of Hashem's blessings for hatzlocha (success) in this, which also widens the "channels and vessels" for Hashem's blessings in all personal needs, both materially and spiritually.
Tammuz, 5740 
At this time, in proximity to the anniversary of the Geula - deliverance - of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory, from the tyranny of the Soviet regime, fifty-three years ago on the 12th-13th of this month, it behooves us to reflect again on those history-making events and how they relate to every one of us here and now. For, as he indicated in his first letter on the occasion of the first anniversary of his geula, and as we clearly see it now, his deliverance was more than a personal one, but a turning point in the survival of Russian Jewry, and is of lasting significance for every Jew everywhere.
This timely reflection should make every one of us all the more deeply appreciative of the blessing of freedom to live a full life of Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], and what goes with it, the sacred obligation to do one's utmost to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism], with enthusiasm and love - the love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of our Jewish brethren, which are inseparable.
Moreover, by his total mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) even in the face of overwhelming odds, and by his eventual triumph, with G-d's help, he has shown the way, and trodden the way, for every Jew to follow in his footsteps, with complete assurance that when a Jew is firmly resolved to work for Torah and Yiddishkeit, he or she will overcome whatever difficulties there may be, and be matzliach [successful] with G-d's help.
I hope and pray that the inspiration of the Baal HaGeula and Chag HaGeula - especially as this year's geula anniversary also marks his 100th birthday on the selfsame day of the 12th of Tammuz - will stimulate you and yours to redouble your efforts in the said direction in the days ahead, which will also widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings for yourself and all yours, in all needs, both materially and spiritually.
What is the reason for the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz?
Five national disasters occurred on 17 Tammuz (corresponding to Thursday, July 13 this year). First, Moses descended from Sinai and smashed the Tablets when he found the Jews worshipping idols. Second, During the siege of Jerusalem the daily sacrifice was interrupted. Third, the breach of the wall of Jerusalem during the Roman siege. Fourth, the public burning of a Torah scroll and fifth, the erection of an idol in the Temple courtyard.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Previous Rebbe was imprisoned in the infamous Spalerno prison for spreading and strengthening Judaism. He had been sentenced to death, but because of tremendous pressure from throughout the world, the death sentence was commuted to life in exile.
On the 3rd day of Tammuz, the Previous Rebbe was exiled to the city of Kostrama. On the way to Kostrama, the Previous Rebbe was permitted to stop in his home for a few hours.
The Previous Rebbe then proceeded to the train station where a large group awaited him. Before boarding the train, the Rebbe made strong statements to the assemblage, among them:
"Now it is apparent to all of the nations of the world: 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 proclaim to all 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."
In a letter sent out by the Previous Rebbe on the first anniversary of his release from prison, he explained that the 12th of Tammuz is a day of rejoicing for every single Jew.
"It was not myself alone that G-d redeemed on the 12th of Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and observe its commandments, and so too, all Jews - for the heart of every person of Israel, irrespective of his particular level in the observance of the mitzvot, is perfectly bound with G-d and His Torah....
"This is the day on which the light of the merit of public Torah study banished the misty gloom of calumnies and libels.
"It is fitting that such a day be set aside as a day of gatherings - a day on which people arouse each other to fortify Torah study and the practice of Judaism in every place according to its needs..."
On this auspicious day of redemption and liberation, may we merit the true and complete redemption through Moshiach.
The priest shall take some cedar wood and hyssop...and through it into the midst of the burning cow (19:6)
The cedar wood and the hyssop also got thrown into the fire. Cedar symbolizes excessive pride, and hyssop symbolizes excessive humility. Both of these character traits are not seemly in a person. The same way that one should not hold himself too high, one should also not walk around depressed all the time. A person needs a certain amount of enthusiasm and pride, as it says, "and he lifted his heart in the ways of G-d."
This is the law, a man - adam (Num. 19:14)
The Hebrew word for man is adam, alef-dalet-nun, which contains the word dam (blood). The Torah is likened to the blood which sustains and gives strength to a person's organs and limbs. In the same way, the Torah, by teaching us exactly how to keep the commandments, injects life into our performance of mitzvot.
And it was when a serpent bit a man, if he looked at the serpent of copper (Num. 21:9)
Our rabbis explained: How could merely glancing at a copper snake have an effect on a person, either bad or good? Rather, the point was that when the afflicted person gazed upwards to his Father in Heaven and subjugated his heart to G-d, he was healed. Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz added: A Jew must always lift his eyes upward, while keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground. One must always have G-d in mind, while at the same time existing in this world.
The physical body of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was incarcerated in the infamous Spalerno prison, but his indomitable spirit was completely unfettered.
In spite of severe physical and psychological tortures inflicted upon him by his cruel and coarse jailers, he never wavered in his belief in G-d and devotion to Judaism.
On the 15th of Sivan, after an endless night of torture he demanded that he be given his tefillin. "Forget about it!" laughed his torturers. "You'll never get them as long as you're here!"
"If that is so, I declare that I am undertaking a hunger strike. Until you give me my tefillin, I will neither eat nor drink, and the prisoners in my cell will be witness to my fast."
The Rebbe stood in the dark cell praying in a loud voice, while his cell-mates stood in silent awe of the scene.
Neither the terrifying surroundings nor the screamed profanities of the guards could penetrate the Rebbe's profound meditations.
The Rebbe continued his hunger strike throughout the next two days and nights. At ten o'clock that night he was taken to be interrogated. There were three interrogators: two Jews - Lulov and Nachmanson - and one gentile, Dachtriov.
The room was large and the marble walls were lined with large tubes which enabled the GPU agents in the adjacent room to hear and transcribe the interrogation.
When the Rebbe entered the room he turned to his interrogators and remarked, "This is the first time that I have come into a room and not a single person has risen from his place!"
"Do you know where you are?" they asked him.
"Of course. I know that this is a place where it is NOT required to put a mezuza. There are several such places, for example, a stable and a bathroom."
The Rebbe refused to be intimidated and declared angrily, "You have no right to accuse me! Return my possessions to me!"
But they proceeded to read the charges against the Rebbe:
Abetting the reactionary forces of the USSR; counter-revolution; exerting an influence on Russian Jews; spreading religion; corresponding with foreigners and relaying information about the Soviet Union, etc.
The Rebbe explained that he didn't impose his will on anyone; it is the way of Chasidut to influence by example, not by force or power.
One hundred and eighty years before, his ancestor, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, had been forced to explain the tenets of Chasidut to the interrogators of the Czar; now Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak had to do the same to Soviet interrogators.
The Rebbe responded to all of their accusations, and then lashed out against Lulov, saying: "Listen to me. Maybe you think you will start a new Beilis case [the infamous blood-libel charge], but remember how that attempt failed." The Rebbe continued in this manner to refute all their words.
At that time, Nachmanson entered the room and related the following anecdote: "Lulov, do you know that my parents were childless until they went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a blessing? This is the man right here...and I am the child who was born." The interrogators laughed hilariously at this irony.
The interrogation lasted late into the night.
At the end, Lulov angrily blurted out, "In another 24 hours you will be shot dead!" This was a real possibility at the time.
Suffering excruciating pain from the beatings he had received, the Rebbe continued his hunger strike until Friday, when his tefillin and books were returned to him.
At that time, the Rebbe announced that he would eat only food brought from his home. That Shabbat, he was brought three whole challahs baked in his home (an example of the new deferential treatment he was to receive).
The guard who had previously been so gratuitously cruel, now went out of his way to accommodate the Rebbe. As the Rebbe had requested, the guard would knock on his cell door to indicate the time for evening prayer, and at the conclusion of that Shabbat, the Rebbe was given two matches with which to make Havdala [the prayer marking the separation between the holiness of Shabbat and the mundane week].
On the 12th of Tammuz, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok was released from prison and sure death.
Thirteen years later, the Rebbe arrived in the United States. His arrival marked the inception of a new era in Jewish America. It had been assumed that Torah could never flourish in America as it had in Europe, but with his famous pronouncement, "America is not different," the Rebbe opened the way for a dramatic growth of Torah observance on these shores. The day of his liberation is a day of liberation for Jews the world over.
Even before that redemption comes, we will merit a succession of Divine miracles. When one Jew will ask another, "What was the last miracle that happened," he will be unable to answer because the miracles are taking place in such rapid succession. And these miracles will lead to the ultimate miracles, those which accompany the redemption from exile, when "As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 10 Tammuz, 5751-1991)