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It's a task we've all performed, setting the table. Sometimes it's just a chore, but sometimes setting the table gets us excited. When we're having a special meal with special guests, then setting the table is part of the experience, makes the event even more meaningful. And, oh! - the details we pay attention to!
The table itself, will be covered with a white linen tablecloth, of course, with an intricate design sure to attract the guests' attention - and even that of family members invited for the occasion.
We'll probably put some candles on the table.
We'll put out the best china plates. At each place a large dinner plate, and on top of it a smaller salad plate. Above them and to the right, the crystal drinking glass and a crystal wine goblet.
The cloth napkins come next, to the left of the plates, and on top of them a salad fork and a dinner fork. The knife and spoon, of similar design, go on the right.
Finally we put the bread, the salads, water, wine (a Merlot, perhaps), the appetizers. After all, putting out the first course is part of setting the table. And the smell of the soup and the roast coming from the kitchen indicates the table is indeed set and all we need are the guests.
Now, can you imagine what a negative impression we would make on the important guests - dignitaries, celebrities, whoever it might be - if the table was not set, the food not prepared? On the other hand, imagine how we would feel if, after all that preparation, after setting the table just so, the guests did not show up?
The code of Jewish Law is called the Shulchan Aruch - literally, the Set Table. And with good reason. It lays out, in a very ordered fashion, the laws governing the life of the Jewish people. It's worth knowing how the "table" of Jewish law is "set up," what is its structure.
Its four sections are:
- Orach Chayim - covering the spiritual duties of daily life: prayers and blessings, laws of Shabbat and holidays, etc.;
- Yoreh De'ah - covering non-cyclical aspects of life, such as kashrut, charity, honoring one's parents, mezuza, visiting the sick, etc.;
- Choshen Mishpat - covering business transactions, such as loans, sales, partnerships, qualifications for judges, etc.;
- Even HaEzer - covering relationships between man and woman, such as marriage, divorce, engagement, etc.
The table has been carefully set. All the details - the "tablecloth," the "place settings" and "silverware," the "glasses and goblets," and the "meal" - knowledge of Jewish law, of what the Torah requires of us - is ready to be served.
But the "set table" - the Shulchan Aruch - is waiting for the very special guests - you. For to this banquet, every Jew is invited. Indeed, the "meal" will seem incomplete, all the preparations, all the effort in "setting the table" will not be perfect if you, if each and every Jew, does not come, sit down, and partake, even, at least, of the "appetizers."
And it's a standing invitation, an open door, and a table that is always set, prepared and waiting. Just contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, admire the eloquence - and enjoy the meal!
In the opening lines of this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d commands Abraham to "go out" from his land, from his place of birth, to a land which He will show him. What can we to learn from this very first commandment to Abraham, that we can apply to our own lives as well?
The first and most fundamental requirement of every Jew is to "go out" - to be in a constant state of ascent, developing and elevating both our inner potential and our surroundings.
But the very next thing that happened to Abraham after heeding this command and going to Israel appears to be the exact opposite of development and elevation: "And there arose a famine in the land, and Avram went down into Egypt." Thus, Abraham had to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt, during which time Sarah was forcefully taken to Pharaoh's palace. Although G-d protected her from harm while there, she nevertheless underwent the hardship of the whole incident.
How does this obvious descent fit into the aforementioned theme of ascent and elevation, and our task of climbing ever higher?
On a superficial level, Abraham's and Sarah's hardship was a step down, but on a deeper level it was merely a part of their eventual elevation and triumphant return. The purpose of the descent was to achieve an even higher ascent than was possible before. When they returned to Canaan they were "very heavy with cattle, with silver, and with gold."
Just as Abraham's descent was part of the greater plan of ascent, so it was with the generation of his descendants to follow. The Jewish people have found themselves thrust into exile after exile, only to return to their Land and achieve even higher spiritual heights than before. Galut (exile), although appearing to us to be a negative phenomenon, actually carries the potential for the highest good. And now that we are in the last days of the final exile, we approach an era of unprecedented spirituality and goodness, for although the First and Second Temples were eventually destroyed, the Third Temple is to stand forever, and our coming Redemption will have no exile to follow.
We therefore draw encouragement from our ancestor Abraham's descent into Egypt and eventual return to Israel: We must remember that the darkness which seems to prevail in the world is only external, and is part of G-d's greater plan for the ultimate prevailing of good over evil and the coming of Moshiach.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Voting with All Your Heart
by Gloria Goldreich
Each year, as the leaves begin to turn, the airwaves begin to buzz with news of upcoming election campaigns. Again and again we are reminded of the great privilege of democracy: We are urged to go to the polls and fulfill our obligation as citizens of the United States.
Inevitably, when I listen to all these messages, I think of my father, for whom voting was more than a privilege and an obligation - for him it was a sacred act. It is then that I recall my father's adventure on Election Day 1944, when war still raged in the world and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for his 4th term as president.
In his early twenties, spurred by his family's vulnerability in an era of Polish autocracy that imposed strictures on the educational and economic opportunities of Jews, limited their civil rights and indeed threatened their very lives, my father left his home in Partsevah, Poland, to seek a new destiny in America.
Profoundly religious, a talmudic scholar by training, he scrupulously observed Shabbat and the mitzvot (commandments) even in the most arduous of circumstances - in alien cities, amid people whose languages he could not understand and whose ways were foreign and, in all probability, frightening to him.
When he finally reached the United States he was overwhelmed with joy. This new land was a haven to be cherished, the concept of a government of the people, by the people and for the people an ideal to be revered. His framed citizenship papers occupied a place of honor in the small room where he studied Talmud each Shabbat. An American flag was displayed on holidays and he listened to President Roosevelt's fireside chats with the same absorption he accorded to a learned discourse on the Torah.
A self-made man who had established a respected fur business on East Broadway in New York, my father worked long hours. There was only one exception to this schedule. Each year, on the first Tuesday in November, he arrived home in the early afternoon. Voting was a ritual, requiring careful preparation, not unlike his preparations for the celebration of Shabbat.
He changed to the clothing my mother had laid out for him - clean undergarments, a snow-white shirt worn with his gold cufflinks, the good suit he usually wore to synagogue on the holidays and his best tie.
We lived in a two-family house on a tree-lined street. My maternal grandparents occupied the ground-level apartment. On the morning of Election Day, my grandfather took special pains with my father's dress shoes, shining them to a high gloss. He also carefully brushed my father's best hat and his own black Homburg.
Like my father, my mother and her parents also dressed with care for the expedition to the polls, a two-block walk to P.S. 209.
I ran ahead to them, to open the side door of the school, full of my own importance.
A police officer, his shield glittering with authority, stood next to the flag and watched as voters filed in to register. He was a pleasant-looking man, and he nodded respectfully to my English teacher, thin Mrs. Cunningham. She noticed me and smiled.
"This is the little girl who wrote the poem about the flag, Pat," she told the police officer, pointing at my poem on the wall. He smiled at me and I think it was then that he noticed my father and my grandfather, who were preparing to sign the registration ledger.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you'll have to remove your hats."
My father looked at him in bewilderment.
"Why should I remove my hat?" he asked.
"It's a sign of respect to the flag."
My father's face became flushed. His eyes grew dangerously bright behind his thick glasses. He was a reticent man, but when he spoke his voice was firm, with conviction.
"I wear my hat because I am a Jew. I cover my head to show respect to G-d," he said in his heavily accented English.
My grandmother trembled. Uniforms frightened her. She looked pleadingly at my grandfather but he ignored her.
My mother, whose English was flawless, turned to the officer. "My husband is a religious man. He traveled for more than a year from Europe to reach this country and never once did he break the laws of our religion."
"Hey," said the officer, "I'm not asking him to eat pork. I'm just asking him to take his hat off. He's an American."
My father nodded. He smiled as he sometimes did when he played chess with an opponent who had just made a crucial but unwise move.
"It is because I am an American that I do not have to take off my hat," he explained. "This is a free country. The flag tells us that we are free," he continued. "In a free country a Jew can wear his hat. That shows respect to the flag of freedom. And now I sign the book. And now I vote."
The officer stared at him, as though considering the validity of his response, and then, ruefully, he smiled. So did Mrs. Cunningham.
My mother, my grandmother and my grandfather stepped forward and they too signed the registry, their faces bright with pride. One by one they disappeared into the voting booths. I heard the click of the levers. I watched as my father exited and held his hand out to the police officer, who shook it vigorously.
Each year, as I wait in line for my turn to vote, I think of my father and the policeman called Pat and Mrs. Cunningham. It is then that I regret that I did not dress with more care for this solemn and important occasion. But never do I miss an election. My father's legacy remains intact.
Reprinted with permission from Hadassah Magazine
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Excerpt of a letter of the Rebbe dated 22 Teves, 5709 (1949),
freely translated by Rabbi Eli Touger.
Greetings and blessings,
...Question: Can it be said that man's free choice is merely a figment of his imagination, but in truth his deeds are predetermined?
Reply: Heaven forbid to say that, for:
Free Choice is a great fundamental principle and the pillar of the Torah and its commandments.... Without it, what place would there be for the entire Torah? Under which judgment would He exact retribution from the wicked or reward the righteous? "Will the Judge of the entire earth not execute justice?" (Rambam, Mishneh Torah)
On a deeper level, according to the explanations of Chassidus, the true concept of free choice is that when everything is taken into account, a positive and a negative choice are equal for him. For example, when a person is starving and is presented with two choices: a burning fire and a table filled with delicacies for a king, he has the possibility of either satisfying his hunger or throwing himself in the fire. This, however, is not the true concept of free choice that earns a person reward. To cite a second example: An animal can cast itself into a river and drown or go to pasture in a lush field. In all matters such as these, there is no true concept of free choice and hence, no relevance to the issue of reward and punishment, because the person or the animal is compelled by its nature.
The same concepts apply with regard to the entire creation. None of the animals or plants have the potential to change their mission at all (see Tanya, chs. 24, 39). The only exception to this rule is man, for he has been given the license and the potential to contradict his Creator's will, as explained in Tanya, ch. 29. The inner reason why man has been granted this potential is that man's source is from such a high level that no one can hinder him from doing what he wants, as explained in Likkutei Torah....
Question: It seems as if the concepts of G-d's omniscience and man's free choice contradict each other, as questioned by Rambam, loc. cit., and other sources.
Reply: To preface: There are contradictory concepts that cannot co-exist unless one of them is nullified entirely or both of them would not apply in the same context simultaneously. For example, regarding the concept under discussion, the concepts of free choice and Divine decree are contradictory. Therefore one of them (Divine decree) is entirely nullified or at least does not apply in the same context as free choice applies. For example, as explained above, the concept of Divine decree can apply to the nation as a whole and that of free choice to particular individuals.
There are, however, other concepts that even though they themselves do not contradict each other, it is possible to use one as support for the idea that the other is not true. In such an instance, it is possible to say one of these three options: either, as above, that
- one of them will be negated entirely, or
- they will not apply in the same context simultaneously, or
- although both are true and apply simultaneously in the same context, they are not contradictory because the proof suggested is not correct.
To apply this to the concept at hand: G-d's omniscience does not contradict the concept of free choice. To explain: I possess clear knowledge that if, tomorrow, I throw a stone in the air, it will ultimately fall to the ground. This knowledge itself is not a contradiction to the theoretical debate whether the stone has a choice whether to fall to the earth or remain in the air. For even according to the supposition that the stone has free choice, the stone may choose to fall to the earth, but my knowledge is only a logical support for the thesis that the stone does not have free choice. The support works in the following manner: Since my knowledge is clear, without a doubt, if you would say that the stone has free choice, how is it possible for me to know which choice the stone will make? But it is possible to say that although it is not understood how it is possible for me to have foreknowledge of the choice the stone will make, the fact that I have such knowledge is not clear support for the idea that the stone does not have free choice.
Or to cite a second example: Reuven, who sees the future, can relate what will happen to Shimon who is found at the other end of the world (and thus Reuven can have no effect on him whatsoever) and what Shimon will do in the future. Reuven's statements do not affect Shimon's choice. Instead, Reuven knows that Shimon will use his free choice in this-and-this manner; i.e., Shimon's free choice changes Reuven's knowledge and not the opposite. The choice is the reason; and the knowledge, the result. His knowledge that precedes Shimon's choice is just like the knowledge of an ordinary person that comes after the choice. Obviously, the latter does not represent a contradiction to free choice. For in that instance, the choice was free because it was not influenced by the knowledge. On the contrary, the knowledge is dependent on the result of the choice.
This, as it were, reflects the manner in which G-d knows. As our Sages say: "The Holy One, blessed be He, knows what will come to pass." If you ask, since our choice is free, how is it possible for G-d to know beforehand what one will choose? To this, Rambam answers that G-d's knowledge is not like our knowledge and we have no way of knowing how G-d knows...
Reprinted from I Will Write it In Their Hearts Vol 4
Why is the Hebrew letter "shin" on the front of the mezuza cover?
"Shin" is the first letter of one of G d's names, "Shad-dai" - Alm-ghty. It is also an acronym for "Shomer Delatot Yisrael - Guardian of the Doors of Israel." Thus, it is appropriate to be on the mezuza cover. In addition to being on the mezuza cover, the word Shad-dai is also written on the back of the mezuza parchment itself.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we read G d's blessing to Abraham: "I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; if a person will be able to count all the grains of dust in the world, then your offspring also will be countable."
The Baal Shem Tov gave another reason why Jews are compared to the "dust of the earth." For, just as there are treasures hidden deep within the earth, there are beautiful "treasures" hidden within every single Jew.
Along these lines, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked by a group of visiting academics, "What is the purpose of a rebbe?"
The Rebbe answered, "Concerning the Jewish people, it says, 'And you will be for Me a land of desire.' A Jew is like land, earth. Within the earth one finds many treasures. But one needs to know how to look for them and how to take them out from the depths of the earth. One who doesn't know how to search will look in the earth and find only dirt and mud, or rocks and stones.
"The same is true with a person. One psychologist digs in a person's soul and finds dirt and mud. Another finds rocks and stones. The purpose of a rebbe is to find the treasure, the G dly soul that rests within every Jew."
May each one of us find, recognize, and reveal, the G-dly soul within ourselves and others thereby enhancing the unity of the Jewish people and hastening the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
And Malkitzedek, King of Shalem, brought out bread and wine, and he was a priest of G d, most high (Gen. 14:18)
Rabbi Mordechai of Lachowitz would say, "Malkitzedek 'brought out' introduced and led a new path in the worship of G d. Even when a person 'eats bread' and 'drinks wine,' he has the ability and potential to be a 'priest to G d, most high' one who serves G d."
At eight days old shall every male child be circumcised (Gen. 17:12)
A Jewish male enters into the covenant of Abraham at the tender age of eight days, before he can possibly understand the significance of the act, because brit mila (circumcision) involves the essence of the soul, which exists on a level far above human understanding and comprehension. The mitzva binds the soul to G-d, Who is also beyond our understanding and comprehension.
And the souls that they made in Charan (Gen. 12:5)
A person who takes pity on a poor man and sustains him is credited with having "created" that person, as we learn from Abraham our forefather: "The souls that they made" refers to the multitude of guests to whom Abraham offered his hospitality and brought into his tent.
And told it to Abram the Hebrew ("Ivri") (Gen. 14:13)
The word "Ivri" comes from the root word meaning, "side," for Abraham stood alone on one side, while all the world opposed him.
Look now toward the heaven and count the stars...so shall your seed be (Gen. 15:5)
Just as the stars in the sky appear from afar to be tiny specks of light, yet, in actuality, each one is an entire world, so, too, are the Jews: In this world Jews may be the object of scorn and derision, yet, in truth, the Jewish people are great and mighty, the foundation of the world's very creation.
(Baal Shem Tov)
About two hundred years ago lived a very righteous man named Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz. In addition to having mastered all of the works of the great Sages of previous generations, including the mystical teachings, he loved to help others. His custom was that every morning he would return home from prayer, put down his prayer shawl and Tefilin, and immediately leave his house again. He would go from door to door collecting charity for those in need and then return home once again. Only after distributing the money he had collected to the poor people who gathered each day at his house would he sit and have something to eat. It wasn't easy work; the rich didn't easily part with their money and the less rich didn't have much to part with, but he was happy that he could serve G-d through this all-important commandment.
One day after he finished his rounds, distributed the money, and was just about to wash his hands to eat bread, he heard someone knock. He turned around and saw that there was another poor man who had pushed the door open a crack and was peeking through. The rabbi went to the door, opened it and said, "I'm sorry, you'll have to return tomorrow. I've handed out all the money I have." But the sad look on the poor man's face made him put down his towel and set out to collect money again.
However this time he really had problems. At each door he got an angry stare and sometimes even a few angry comments. The rabbi collected only a fraction of what he usually got but he happily returned home, gave the grateful man the money, bade him good day, and again went to wash his hands for the morning meal (though it was already nearly lunchtime).
But, just as he was about to pour the water on his hands, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone standing behind him loudly clearing his throat.
He turned around and there was yet another man who had let himself in. "I know, Rabbi, I know. I came late, right? Well, I know you are busy; I don't want to bother you, G-d forbid. I'll come back tomorrow. I only want someone to tell my problems to. I won't take long. I promise."
The rabbi nodded. "My wife is not in good shape, the doctors say that soon her life will be in danger. My daughter is getting older and I have no money for a wedding. And finally my entire house fell in yesterday," At this point the man began weeping and Rabbi Naftali again put down the towel, told the man to sit, put on his coat and went out collecting again.
But this time it was completely different. When the owner answered the first door (for the third time that day), instead of cursing Rabbi Naftali, he greeted him with a smile and open arms. "I'm so sorry that I gave you that bitter look before," he apologized. "Now I see that you must be a real tzadik (righteous person) if you are willing to visit me again after what I said to you. You must think only of the poor and not of yourself at all! And instead of giving the usual ruble I'm giving you ten rubles!"
So it was at the next house and all the homes thereafter. But this time, when Rabbi Naftali arrived home, he wasn't so happy. He gave the man who was waiting the money and said, with a bit of a frown, "Listen my friend, the money is yours. I assure you I'm not going to take it back. But tell me the truth. Your wife isn't sick and that story about your daughter and your house falling in, it's not true, is it?"
The man hemmed and hawed and finally answered sheepishly, "Well, Rabbi, I wasn't exactly lying. Maybe I exaggerated a little, but I didn't really lie. You see, my wife is pregnant and it says in the holy books that when a woman goes to give birth her life is in danger. You can break Shabbat to get help."
"And what about your daughter's wedding?" asked the rabbi.
"Well, it's true that now she is only five-years-old, but I always say 'Why wait until the last minute,' right Rabbi? About my house, the rocking chair that a neighbor gave my wife broke, which made me feel just terrible!"
Then the visitor thought for a second and asked, "Tell me Rabbi, how did you know? How did you know I wasn't telling the truth, and if you knew then why did you go collecting for me?!"
Rabbi Naftali answered simply: "Every time I collect money to distribute for charity, it is never an easy task as there is always an obstacle to holiness. But this time, when I collected for you specifically, everything was easy, in fact, too easy. I thought to myself, 'Something is wrong here. Somehow I must not be doing a mitzva.' So I figured the simple solution is that you must not really need the money as desperately as you said."
Concerning Moshiach, Isaiah prophecizes, "With equity shall he rebuke the meek of the earth."(Isaiah 11:4) A personal obligation rests upon every individual Jew to arouse his fellow to the practice of good deeds. When instead a person adopts an attitude of humility and argues, "Who am I to arouse my fellow? What kind of a spokesman am I?" - he deserves to be sternly rebuked. These "meek of the earth" will be rebuked by Moshiach, though here too he will find extenuating circumstances.
(Likutei Diburim Vol. II, p. 289)