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We're at the starting line. A new (Jewish) year has begun.Synagogues around the world are commencing the 3319th annual cycle of reading the Torah (Five Books of Moses) each Shabbat morning.
But what's it really ALL about?
The Torah begins with the narrative of creation, how G-d brought the world into being from absolute nothingness. That is an awesome lesson.
Whenever an entity is made - brought into being although it did not exist before - a question is immediately raised: Why was it made?
Even a mortal acts with purpose, doing things with a goal in mind. Surely, this applies with regard to G-d. He brought our world into existence, because He had a goal and a purpose.
What was that purpose? On the verse, "And the spirit of G-d was hovering over the waters," our Sages comment: "This refers to the spirit of Moshiach." And in other sources, they state: "The world was created solely for Moshiach."
To explain: Our Sages tell us G-d created the world because He wanted a dwelling, a home. A person lets loose and functions without inhibitions in his own home. So too, G-d wanted a place where He could reveal Himself without constraints, where who He is can come into expression.
That's why He created our world.
But He did not want that revelation to be a natural part of the world's existence. Instead, He wanted to be hidden at the outset, and for man to become His partner in creation, by shaping the world and developing it until he became aware that he is living within G-d's dwelling.
To refer to a classic Chasidic expression: G-d made the world out of nothingness, and man's mission is to make the somethingness of the world into nothingness, i.e., to reveal its spiritual core. At that point, all the important somethings in the world will be dwarfed by this spiritual realization.
This greater purpose is also the purpose of every individual at every point in his life. Why does a person come to a particular place, at a particular time? Because there, he has the potential to help the world reach its ultimate purpose, and more particularly, to prepare that corner of G-d's home to carry out its function in this undertaking.
The culmination of these efforts will be the coming of Moshiach. This will be the turning point of history. Until his coming, the world's purpose will not be apparent; it is something that we will have been told about, but not that we see. With his coming, and the Redemption that he will initiate, that will change.
It's like the construction of a building. At the beginning, there's a blueprint, and workers. But by just watching the workers, it would be very hard to get a picture of the desired structure. As the building progresses, however, its shape and its function become evident. So too, with Moshiach's coming, the purpose of the world's creation will become apparent; we will understand that we are living in G-d's world.
This is not an abstract discussion, but current events. The values of freedom, tolerance, and generosity have spread throughout the community of nations. Regimes that have opposed them have toppled giving way for greater communication and sharing. By "living with Redemption," and anticipating the mindset of that future era, we can precipitate its spreading throughout the world.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.
This week's Torah portion, B'reishit, is the first portion of the entire Torah. It contains the account of the creation of the world and of the first people.
When Adam was created, G-d immediately made him aware of what his purpose purpose in life would be: "Till the earth and conquer it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
Man was given the power to conquer the whole world and to rule over it; not only was he given the power to conquer, he was also commanded to do so. This was his life's task.
What was Adam's reaction to this command and how did he go about achieving this objective? The Midrash states that when G-d created Adam, his soul permeated his whole being. All the creatures of the world, sensing Adam's G-dly spirit, thought that he had created them. So, they gathered to serve him and crown him as their creator. But Adam pointed out their error and said to them: "Let us all come and worship G-d, our Maker."
The "world conquest" given to man as his task and mission in life is to bring all of Creation to the realization that G-d is our Maker. This is accomplished by "elevating" all of nature in the service of G-d - by utilizing every part of nature to serve G-d.
From an ox hide one can make shoes and tefilin. If the shoes are worn on feet that make their way to do a mitzva and the tefilin are used daily, then the leather (and therefore the ox) has been "elevated" by its use as a means to serve G-d. Nature is used in the service of G-d and man is fulfilling his purpose.
The Torah relates that after Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they "hid themselves from the presence of G-d." In response to their concealment, G-d asked them, "Where are you?" The following story furnishes an interesting interpretation of that incident:
During his imprisonment on libelous accusations of disloyalty to the government of the czar, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, was subjected to many interrogations.
A high-ranking minister, well versed in the Bible, asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman to explain the verse in B'Reishit: "And G-d called to Adam and said to him, 'Where are you?'"
"Didn't the Omniscient G-d know where Adam was?" asked the minister.
"Do you believe that the Bible is eternal and has a message for every age, every generation, every individual?" asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
The official answered in the affirmative.
"Then," said Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "this is the explanation of the verse: In every age, to every individual, G-d calls and asks, 'Where are you?'; 'Where do you stand in the world?' Every person is destined to live a certain number of years, to be used in doing good for man as well as for G-d." Do you know what you are supposed to accomplish and what you have accomplished?
From "A Thought for the Week," Detroit. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Teachers Come in All Sizes
by Steve Hyatt
Almost every adult can remember back to his childhood and recall a teacher who changed his or her life forever. As Jewish adults, hopefully we also can point to someone who impacted on us Jewishly. But it is a truly humbling experience for an adult to realize that an important spiritual lesson can be taught by two six-year-olds who stand just over four and a half feet tall.
Like many late bloomers, I am not a master of reading Hebrew. I can, as they say, get by, but the only way to gain real proficiency is through practice. And therein lies the rub. I am fine when it comes to the weekday prayer services, because with the exception of holidays, the text of the weekday morning, afternoon and evening "Amida" prayer doesn't change much from day to day. Over time, the repetition of each service enables me to become more confident and competent with the Hebrew words and one day you are stunned to see you can keep up with the experienced readers.
But the Shabbat morning service is more challenging. First, you only say it once a week. Second, the prayers are much longer. So, unless you actually practice reading the Shabbat morning prayers, you don't develop the same proficiency as you do with the weekday payers.
Thus, over the years I have found myself reading many of the Shabbat prayers in English. To be honest, I wasn't completely comfortable with this situation. But I didn't have the push to do anything about it. That is, until one Shabbat morning when Chana Cunin, one of the six-year-old triplets of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries in Reno, Nevada, asked me to show her where we were in the prayer book.
I showed Chana that we were on page 159. She looked at me and innocently asked, "Why are you pointing to the English words." I babbled some incoherent explanation and Chana, satisfied, scurried away. But I couldn't get her question out of my mind. Here was a small child, standing in front of me, asking me an honest and sincere question. "Why?" I asked myself. "Because this way is easy and requires less effort," I answered myself. Echoing the words of numerous Chabad Rabbis I've met over the years, I asked myself, "Since when is the easy way the right way?"
Just as I was contemplating this perplexing dilemma I heard a small deep, throated voice off to my left. The voice was slowly and methodically sounding out the Hebrew words to the prayers I was supposed to be reading. The voice was enunciating every letter, every syllable with great care and clarity. As I looked up from my prayer book, Chana's six-year-old brother Moshe was standing proudly next to his father, Rabbi Mendel Cunin, reading the last line of each of the Psalms in the first part of the Shabbat service. Without a moment's hesitation, self-consciousness or inhibition, Moshe proudly sounded out the words for all to hear. As he came to the conclusion of each line, he emphasized the last word of each sentence with gusto and an arm pump that would make golfer Tiger Woods proud.
As the weeks went on Moshe gained confidence and his speed noticeably increased. He obviously spent time with his father practicing, gaining greater skill and proficiency along the way. One Saturday morning as my dad and I strolled along the two mile walk to shul my mind wandered away and I started to think about Moshe and his passion for praying. I couldn't help but wonder why I was so reluctant to follow Moshe's example and start reading the prayers in Hebrew for Shabbat as well.
Truthfully, other than admitting I was a little lazy, I couldn't come up with a good answer. So as we passed the halfway point of our journey, I turned to my dad and told him that beginning today I was going to be just like Moshe and start reading nothing but the Hebrew words.
When the service began I found myself falling behind almost immediately. The old fear of being left behind began to creep into my brain. I was about to start reading the English text when I heard that distinctive deep, throaty melodious voice drift into my ears. Like a powerful energizing force, Moshe's rendition of the Hebrew text pulled me back to my pledge and I began to recite the Hebrew. In order to keep up I started reading as much of the beginning of each paragraph as I could until I heard Moshe start reading the last line of the paragraph. I'd jump to the last line as well and we'd finish together. I would quickly go to the next line and read as fast as I could. This "competition" between the 52-year-old and the 6-year-old was all in my mind but it compelled me to push myself beyond my perceived limitations. When Moshe started the last line I'd drop down to join him. In this way I could keep up with the service and read as much Hebrew as possible.
Over the last month my speed has improved dramatically. In most cases I am almost done with each paragraph when Moshe begins his recitation. We now finish each paragraph at about the same time and I mentally share his arm pump to emphasize the last word. But I have to admit that while my speed and proficiency have improved so has Moshe's. I've accepted the fact that it will only be a matter of time before I am struggling to keep up with him as he zips through the Hebrew. But to tell you the truth, that's okay with me. No one ever said the student had to be better or faster than the teacher. Moshe may soon surpass me in skill, speed, and proficiency but all is not lost. I am still faster than his younger brother Dovid who, as I write this, is 6-months-old. I figure if I practice and stay committed, I will have a good four years to get ready for my new teacher.
Come to think of it, four years may not be long enough. I better go practice.
Rabbi and Mrs. Yosef Yitzchak Morozov arrived in Ulyanovsk, Russia, in time for the High Holidays. The Jewish community, numbering approximately 4,000 Jews, has welcomed the young couple and are looking forward to enhanced religious programming under the Morozovs' leadership.
Rabbi Chaim and Kaila Danzinger will soon be moving to Pasadena, California where they will serve as program directors at the existing Chabad of Pasadena.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) is the newest campus to have a Chabad-Lubavitch Student Center opened. Rabbi Chaim Boruch and Rivkie Lipskier will arrive soon in Orlando, Florida to open the Center which will serve as a "home away from home" for college students at UCF.
From a letter of the Rebbe 15 Kislev, 5734 (1974)
Pursuant to the letter of the beginning of last month, the content of which was based on the general instruction and culminating point of the month of Tishrei, namely, the message contained in the phrase, "And Yaakov went on his way:"
Bearing in mind that each letter and word of the Torah is a world full of meaning and instruction, there is a need to elaborate on the concepts contained in the said three Hebrew words:
And Yaakov: It is well known that the two names of our patriarch, Yaakov (Jacob) and Yisroel (Israel), are quite different. The name Yaakov was given at birth, whereas Yisroel was bestowed later, after our patriarch had fought "with angels and with men, and prevailed."
The name Yaakov is associated with ekev - heel - which is the lowest and last part of the body, and wherein there is hardly any distinction between one person and another. The name Yisroel, on the other hand, has to do with leadership and mastery. In fact, when the Hebrew letters are rearranged, they spell li rosh - I am the head. The head, of course, is the highest part of the body, wherein the essential differences (physical and spiritual) between individuals are located, viz. facial features, voice, looks, and intellect.
Now, the significance of Yaakov, in the above "instruction" is that it refers to the Divine mission given to every Jew, without exception, from birth, while still in the state of "Yaakov," and at the beginning of his Divine service. From this starting point, the mission is to be fulfilled in a manner containing the following elements:
Went on - implying true locomotion, i.e. leaving one place (and spiritual state) completely behind to go to another, more desirable place.
Parenthetically, this is the reason why angels are called omdim - stationary - for although "they fulfill the Will of their Maker with awe and fear, and praise G-d in song and melody" which is their form of advancement to higher states, there is no complete departure and change involved in their nature, hence this cannot be termed perfect "going."
Only man is called mehalech, a "walker," for his task is to go ever higher, even if his previous spiritual station is satisfactory. Yet, to remain in the same state will not do at all. His progression must involve a change, to the extent that his new spiritual state is incomparably higher than his previous one, however good it was, and he must thus continue on the road that leads to G-dliness, the En Sof, the Infinite, as indicated further.
His way - the King's Way, the way of the Supreme King of the universe. The preeminence of a perfect way, as has been pointed out, is that it links the remotest corner with the royal palace in the capital city. It is a two-way road, leading from the palace to the remote corner and from the remote corner to the palace.
This is how the service of every Jew, man and woman, should be. One must not be satisfied with one's influence at home, in the community, or country, but one must open the way, the King's way, as above, that leads even to the remotest corner of the earth, in order to illuminate that corner with the light of Torah and mitzvos (commandments) and to uplift all that is in that corner.
May G-d grant that each and every one of us will carry out the mission included in, "And Yaakov went on his way," and carry it out with joy, for "joy breaks through barriers," and thus help to light up the darkness of the Exile, for the ultimate fulfillment of the promise: "All the earth will be filled with G-d's glory."
Why is the present Hebrew month sometimes referred to as "Mar" Cheshvan.?
Cheshvan is considered a bitter (in Hebrew "mar") month because it contains no holidays. In addition, suffering befell the Jewish people on various dates during Cheshvan throughout history. Another explanation is that "mar" also means "a drop of water" and Cheshvan is a month filled with bountiful rains.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is a custom among the Rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch to announce at this time of year after Simchat Torah, "V'Yaakov halach l'darko" - "and Jacob went on his way." There is a beautiful explanation as to the reason for this custom:
Jacob symbolizes the Jewish people. Thus, "Jacob went on his way" means that after the excitement, tumult, hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, the Jewish people go back on their regular path, to their normal, everyday, lives.
A second explanation is slightly more profound: After the holidays are over, Jacob (the Jewish people) goes on "His way" - in the ways of G-d, studying Torah and performing mitzvot (commandments).
By combining these two meanings, we find an inspiring lesson to bring with us into the new year. Each one of us has the ability to follow "His way" in our day-to-day lives. True, we have completed, for the time being, the more spiritual days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. But we shouldn't think that with the holidays over our religious observance must be placed on hold until the next Jewish holiday appears on the calendar. Indeed, we can bring the spirituality of those days, the concentrated observance of mitzvot, into our mundane lives every single day of the year!
In this way, we will truly be following on the path of our Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and all of our illustrious ancestors.
In the beginning G-d created the Heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)
Chasidic teachings explain: "In the beginning" - before everything else, a Jew must know that "G-d created the Heavens and the Earth." The basis for a Jew's entire existence is the knowledge that there is a Creator and Ruler over the world Who created nothing into something.
The first word of the Torah is "B'reishit." The first letter, bet, has the numerical value of two. Reishit means beginning or first. For two firsts the world was created. For the Torah, which is called Reishit Darko - the beginning of His way, and for the Jewish people, who are called Reishit T'vuato - the first of His crops.
And it was evening and it was morning, the second day (Gen. 1:8)
Why, about the second day of creation, does it not say, "And it was good," as it says with all of the other days? Rabbi Chanina said: "On that day divisiveness was created, as it says, 'And there was a separation between the waters [above] and the waters [below].'" Rabbi Tuviyomi said, "If divisiveness which is for the purpose of correcting the world is not good, divisiveness which stirs things up is certainly not good."
Be Fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:28)
The first commandment in the Torah is "Be fruitful and multiply." Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism declared: "The first basic principle in the Torah, the first fundamental in our lives, is that each and every Jew is obligated to 'create' another." Every member of our people must invest great effort to "produce another Jew, specifically, to foster Torah education.
Many years ago in the city of Rabat in Morocco there lived a great Rabbi who was also the mohel (ritual circumcisor) of the city. The Jews were not blessed with an abundance of worldly goods, but their greatest blessing lay in their many, lovely children who filled their homes with joy. Hardly a day passed without a brit (circumcision), and the Rabbi was kept busy performing this holy mitzva (commandment).
After a time the Rabbi realized that he had not been called upon to perform a brit in many weeks. He couldn't understand why the Jewish women had ceased to give birth to boys, and he went to discuss the matter with the city elders.
They were also confounded by the drastic drop in the birth rate of the town, until one of them remarked that its seemed to have begun when the King granted a monopoly on fishing rights to the governor of the city. He had placed an exorbitant tax on fish, so that only the wealthiest could afford to purchase it. The Jews could no longer grace their Shabbat table with fish.
"Aha!" said the Rabbi, "That explains it. You see, it is a great thing to honor the Shabbat with fish, since the Creator blessed fish as He did people with the blessing 'Be fruitful and multiply.' Now, since the people can no longer afford fish, they have been deprived of this blessing."
The Rabbi had a plan. He went home and wrote out a few words on a parchment, and then instructed one of his students to take it to the seashore and drop it into the water exactly after sunrise.
The young man carried out the Rabbi's instructions, and the results were truly amazing. That day, when the fishermen went out, they were unable to catch even one fish! The same happened on the next day and the third.
The king, a great fish lover, quickly noticed the absence of fish and complained to the royal cook, who in turn replied that he had been unable to find fresh fish in any of the markets of the city. The angry king then sent for his governor and demanded an explanation. "I have given you a monopoly over the fish trade, and I cannot even get fish on my table! Have the fishermen stopped fishing, or have all the fish died!?"
The trembling governor had no explanation for the strange turn of events. He personally inspected the wharfs, but to no avail. The king gave an ultimatum: "In three days you had better come up with some fish or else I will have you thrown into the sea to find the fish yourself."
The terrified governor sent out all his informants to try to solve this puzzle, and sure enough, one returned with the story of a young Jew throwing something into the water.
The governor quickly returned to the king with the information that the Jews had bewitched the fish. The Rabbi was summoned and he addressed the king, saying, "Long live the King, Your Majesty. It is true I am responsible for the disappearance of the fish, but I did not cast any spell upon them. We Jews are strictly forbidden to use magic. I simply ordered the fish to leave these waters for the time being, and for a good reason.
"Your Majesty, G-d Who created the heaven and the earth filled them with many good resources for the benefit of man. He created air and water and made them readily available. The wind blows and the rains fall for the equal benefit of all G-d's creatures, and no man is able to capture them for his own use alone. G-d also created the fish of the sea. I am the spiritual leader of my people, and it has been my privilege to also serve as a mohel to circumcise the boys born into my congregation. In the past months I saw that no babies were being born, and I discovered that it was because the people are unable to purchase fish with which to honor our holy Shabbat."
"That is a strange thing to say," replied the king. "What could one thing possibly have to do with the other?"
The Rabbi explained: "You see, Your Majesty, G-d pronounced three blessings at the time of creation. One on the fish: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters of the seas;' One on man: 'Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and have dominion over the fish of the sea...;' and on the Shabbat: 'And G-d blessed the Shabbat and made it holy.' So, that when we honor the Shabbat with fish, we are combining the three blessings, and G-d blesses our people with children who study his holy Torah."
The king now understood that because of his greedy governor poor people were unable to enjoy the bounty of the seas. He wasted no time in calling the governor and dismissing him from his high position.
The following morning at sunrise, all the townspeople assembled at the seaside to witness the wondrous return of the fish. Upon the arrival of the king, the Rabbi approached the water and called out: "Fish, hear my command! By the authority of the Creator and the authority of the Torah I order you to return at once and serve your Creator!" No sooner had he uttered these words than the calm sea began to ripple as wave upon wave of fish headed for the shore, jumping out of the water in excitement.
The crowd roared with happiness as the fishing boats raced out to sea to harvest the great bounty.
Adapted from The Storyteller.
In the beginning of the book of Genesis, we read, "And the spirit of G-d hovered over the waters." Our Sages tell us that this actually refers to Moshiach. In fact, the Hebrew words of the verse "v'ruach Elokim m'rachefet - and the spirit of G-d hovered" have the same numerical value as the words, "zeh haya rucho shel Melech HaMashiach - this was the spirit of King Moshiach."
(Based on R. Bachaya, B'reishit 1:2)