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Ah, the comforts of home. They haven't changed much, if at all, since the last time you were there. The same couch in the den, perfect for falling asleep while reading. Hmm, the kitchen table is still there - complete with the fork lines you scraped into it once.
There are new photo on the mantel, your youngest cousins/nephews/nieces, etc.
Check out the refrigerator, of course, and the pantry. Yup, everything's there that you expect to see (and eat!).
Of course, your bedroom's a little different. It's been used by siblings, children of siblings, and guests while you've been away at school or, if older, away raising your own family.
Still, it's easy to slip into old habits, old comfort zones. Mom still tells you not open the refrigerator and just stand there. Maybe by now you've learned not to do it, but she still tells you.
The kitchen smells of your mom's cooking and there's nothing like that smell in the world. And your dad's handiwork still suffuses the house.
What happens when you come home after an absence - and the longer the absence, perhaps, the more striking the realization - is that you become again what you were, but without the conflicts that got you there. The childhood fights become memories to laugh about. The unfairness of your mom's rules - no computer until homework is done, no phone until the dirty laundry is off the floor - become the challenges against which you measured and trained yourself.
When you come home after an absence, you become truly two in one - who you are and who you were. Simultaneously. And that simultaneity transforms the past, elevates the negatives into benefits, and sanctifies all the positives.
Coming home unifies us - with ourselves, our past and purpose, our family and interactions.
This is the concept of teshuva - returning. A universal theme of Judaism is teshuva - returning - bring home with us all the experiences, all the joys and triumphs, yes, but also all the disappointments, failures and tragedies - bringing them, making them part of home.
Admittedly, teshuva is a paradoxical concept. The Sages tell us that teshuva can change reality: if a completely wicked man declares to a woman, "you are engaged to me on condition that I am a complete tzaddik, completely righteous," and the woman agrees to the engagement, provided the condition is fulfilled, they are engaged - for with one thought of teshuva a person can totally transform himself. Indeed, through teshuva sins transform to merits.
To understand this, to "wrap our minds around the concept," requires study of Chasidic philosophy. And to feel, to integrate into one's self, the teshuva transformation, may require intense effort, self-examination, discipline, etc. To know the feel of teshuva as we know the feel of our hand, can we achieve this? Or, do we have the will to strive to achieve it?
But coming home we can understand. Coming home and freeing ourselves, with the advantages of childhood and the privileges of adulthood, that we gather within ourselves.
That teshuva is all about coming home to the comforts of home we can handle.
And thus, immediate coming home, better, in the words of the previous Rebbe: Immediate teshuva, immediate Redemption.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, relates that Abraham established an inn for guests, and there he "called upon the name of 'kail olam,' the eternal G-d." Our Sages interpret this phrase to imply that Abraham was not satisfied merely to call to G-d himself, but that he taught others too to proclaim G-dliness.
What did he do? He established his tent at a crossroads in the desert and generously provided food and drink to wayfarers. After they completed their meal, he asked them to: "Bless the One who provided you with food and drink."
When the guests began to bless Abraham, he told them: "Was it I who provided you with food? Bless He who spoke and brought the world into being." By providing people with their physical needs, he made them conscious of the spiritual reality.
The Hebrew term kail olam has also attracted the attention of the commentaries. Translated here as "the eternal G-d," it can also mean "G-d of the world," or more literally "G-d, world." "G-d of the world" would imply that G-d and the world are two distinct entities, the former paying homage to the latter, while the more literal meaning is deeper, namely that G-d and the world are indistinguishable; everything is an expression of G-dliness. This is the intent of the phrase "G-d is one" that we recite in the Shema prayer: not only is there only one G-d, but everything in the world is at one with Him.
This is not only an abstract concept. It affects a person's fundamental approach to his life. When he sees G-d as "G-d of the world," he understands that he has obligations to Him. After all, if G-d is the Ruler of the world, a person has to pay his dues.
But that - he thinks - is all he is obligated to do. In the rest of his affairs, his life is his own. It's like paying taxes. You have to give the government a percentage of your income, but afterwards, you can spend the remainder of your money however you like. Similarly, in a spiritual sense, such a person recognizes that he owes something to G-d, but his life is primarily his own; he can do with it whatever he wants.
When we appreciate the world as one with G-d, by contrast, our entire relationship with Him changes. Religion is not merely going to the synagogue or carrying out a certain body of laws, but an all-encompassing experience, affecting every element of our lives.
Every situation in which we are found, every person whom we meet gives us an opportunity to advance in our knowledge of G-d and our connection to Him.
This is the heritage that Abraham gave to his descendants - to spread the awareness that we are living in His world, that our lives are not intended merely to provide ourselves with a little bit of enjoyment and satisfaction, but are instead mediums to make His presence known to others.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eli Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos in English.
Thoughts on the Marriage of My Youngest
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
I am at the Los Angeles airport waiting for my plane to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It's a time of joy and happiness for my family. My youngest son, Yosef Yitzchok, called Yossi, is getting married. I consider my mixed feelings. On one hand it is a blessing to see your youngest child married. Nowadays this is no small feat. On the other hand, you "lose" your youngest child.
Yossi is the youngest of six children. Having a family with six children was a statement for me. My family was to symbolically replace, in a small way, the monumental loss of 6 million Jewish brothers and sisters who were cruelly killed and methodically destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.
The loss of so many Jewish children left a large vacuum in the heart of the Jewish nation. I know that each remaining family had the responsibility, or rather the obligation, to have as many children as possible.
So at the birth of each child I felt a sense of victory over tyranny and that we were contributing to the rebuilding of the Jewish nation.
What words of wisdom can I impart to my son upon his embarking on marriage? For that matter, can soft lofty and important ideas be expressed in mere words? What do I say to my Yossi as he leaves the insular community of yeshiva life and transitions into the greater world that will be full of opportunities as well as challenges?
Yossi, I remember your birth and choosing your name. In Jewish tradition there is a fine custom to name a child after a saintly person. If a child is born in the week of a saintly man's birthday or happy event then we take this as an opportune time to name the child after that righteous person.
Yossi, my son, you are named after the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880-1950). The previous Rebbe kept the spiritual lives of millions of European Russian Jews alive. He single-handedly fought for religious tolerance and freedom of religion in what was once the U.S.S.R. For 30 years he was known as the great hero of rabbinic Jewish leadership. He kept Jewish schools alive and financially stable during those impossible, turbulent times.
During World War II the previous Rebbe came to America and revitalized American Jewry. This he did for the last ten years of his life. His legacy was carried forward by his son-in-law, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the largest Chassidic movement world-wide. The Rebbe created thousands of Chabad schools, synagogues, centers, "Chabad Houses," and Jewish communities all over the world.
I was sent by the Rebbe to help create a Chabad community in Southern California just around the time that you were born.
Usually a Jewish name is given at the brit - circumcision - ceremony. But you were a very small baby and we had to wait for the brit to be performed. During that time you were called "baby Hecht" as, in keeping with tradition, we would only name you at the brit.
Oh how we prayed for you to grow and be healthy. Imagine having a baby with no name. Your brothers and sister did not know what to call you. Finally the day came and the doctor said; "Yes, baby Hecht is ready." Your brit was celebrated amidst great festivity and the highlight was when we gave you the name Yosef Yitzchok after the Lubavitcher Rabbi.
Now, it is after your wedding. So many proud Jewish people gathered in Milwaukee to celebrate with you and your bride, Yehudis. Your grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, your brothers and sister with their families and friends, all gathered to rejoice with you upon your marriage. They came from around the world to be with you.
Yossi, remenber that you are a fifth generation Jewish-American born son. Carry the name Yossi with pride and with the knowlege that together with the honor comes the responsibility of keeping the Jewish nation alive and well.
Yes my boy, this is your time in the sunshine. Live up to your namesake; take in the enjoyment, love and happiness. Keep those links of family strong and true.
Last but not least I too need to remember that at this venture I am getting a new daughter and not losing a son. Mazel Tov-good luck for a long and happy journey.
Rabbi Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, California.
The Place That I Love
For young children, the excitement of doing mitzvot lurks around the nearest corner and goes along from room to room! The Place That I Love, the newest release from HaChai Publishing, written by R.G. Cohen, details which mitzvot are connected to each part of a Jewish home....Torah learning in the study, having guests in the bedroom, the joy of a warm family Shabbat meal in the dining room, keeping kosher in the kitchen, Beautiful illustrations by Alexander Levitas bring each scene to life, as a young boy guides the reader through the place that he loves best... his Jewish home; a place that G-d and the entire family are proud of.
This comprehensive treatise is written in the spirit and style of traditional ethical Torah teachings, that touches upon the various challenges one experiences when faced with the reality of material existence - obstacles that stand in the way of achieving true spiritual heights. Written by the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, in response to the challenges of secularism and non-Jewish ideologies that faced Russian Jewry at that time, Overcoming Folly - Kuntres Umaayan examines the age-old battle - man against his own evil inclination. Translated by Rabbi Zalman Posner, published by Kehot Publications.
From a letter of the Rebbe written in 1975
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of Jan. 27th, following the pleasure of our personal meeting and conversation in connection with the distinguished delegation from your city and state on the occasion of our 25th Anniversary.
I appreciate the promptness with which you so thoughtfully conveyed to me the good news about your action immediately upon your return, in regard to the projected Lubavitcher center in Ann Arbor. This truly reflects the great principle of our Sages, which is also the foundation of our religion and way of life, "The essential thing is the deed."
May G-d grant that these, your efforts, as well as those that will follow, and hopefully in a growing measure, will be successful and always carried out with the enthusiasm and alacrity. Time is particularly of the essence in the area of education, as I had occasion to point out. For when one embarks upon ambitious educational programs, involving financial problems, it is clear that the financial difficulty can be overcome in due course, while if one were to curtail an educational activity, or even to delay it, the loss may be irretrievable. A Jewish child who is deprived of the proper Torah Chinuch [education] not only suffers an immediate loss, but he, or she, may fall under undesirable influences from which it might later be difficult to extricate him or her.
May G-d grant that each and every one of us should continue the sacred work and institutions which are conducted in the spirit of my father-in-law of saintly memory, whose 25th Yahrzeit Anniversary we have just observed. And may each and all of us, in the midst of all our people, continue from strength to strength, with inspiration and gladness of heart.
With personal regards, and with blessing,
22nd of Mar Cheshvan, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your two letters dated the 10th and 12th of November.
I was very gratified to read about the progress which you have been making in business, and may G-d grant that you continue to enjoy a growing success from G-d's "full, open, holy and ample Hand," and that you and your family use the earnings in good health, on matters of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], and the like.
I was especially gratified to read also about your interest in the communal affairs and the Zechus Horabim [the merit of the many] will surely stand you in good stead to succeed. All the more so as we have entered a new year, and one that marks the 200th Anniversary of the Histalkus [passing] of the Baal Shem Tov. It is well known and recorded that the Baal Shem Tov emerged among the hidden Tzaddikim with the plan of helping the Jews materially, which will also help them spiritually, as a matter of course. My father-in-law of saintly memory expressed it in this way, "When G d will give Jews what they need (materially), they will show what they can do (spiritually)."
May G-d grant that this auspicious year will see increased efforts on the part of everyone of us towards the realization of the "Dissemination of the Fountains," and thereby hasten the True and Complete Redemption through the righteous Moshiach.
Hoping to hear good news from you about your communal as well as personal affairs, and that you and your wife have much Yiddish Nachas [Jewish pleasure] from your children,
What is the significance of the Ner Tamid - the Eternal Light - found in many synagogues?
The Ner Tamid is symbolic of the western-most light of seven-branched menora used during Temple times. This light constantly remained lit, though the other lights were cleaned and relit, their wicks and oil changed, every day. The western light (and today the Ner Tamid) was a reminder of G-d's everlasting presence.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On this Shabbat, the 20th of Cheshvan, we mark the birthday of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, (known as the Rebbe Rashab), the fifth Chabad Rebbe.
Rabbi Sholom Ber was a great tzadik and a person of tremendous insight. This can be illustrated by the following incident.
Rabbi Sholom Ber founded, in 1897, the Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva in the city of Lubavitch. The Rebbe Rashab was an honorary member of the council which was formed to help establish the new government's policy toward the Jews after the deposition of the Czar. In 1918 he traveled to Petersburg to participate in a council meeting. At one of the stops on the journey, he sent his attendant to buy a newspaper. Returning with the newspaper, the attendant read to the Rebbe Rashab: "The Communists have taken over, and the council has been abolished."
The Rebbe Rashab responded, "We must now establish yeshivos in every city. I do not see their [the Communists'] end, but ultimately, their end too, will come..."
In the (former) Soviet Union, as the Communist arm stretched forth with ever increasing strength, the yeshivos went underground. Today, there are hundreds of people living all over the world who were educated in those underground yeshivos. In the last few years, yeshivos have been started in 11 cities including Tbilisi, Moscow, Minsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Kishinev, and Kharkov.
Dozens of Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos continue to educate young Jews in Canada, Australia, Israel, Venezuela, and throughout the United States.
How visionary were the Rebbe Rashab's words concerning the ultimate demise of Communism.
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him (Gen. 18:19)
Rashi comments that the phrase "for I know him" implies love and affection for Abraham. G-d loved Abraham because He knew that Abraham would teach his children to follow in his footsteps. As great and impressive as Abraham's worship of G-d was, more worthy of merit was the fact that he could be counted on to instruct others.
To do righteousness and justice (Gen. 18:19)
When G-d bestows wealth and abundance on a Jew, he must honestly judge himself and ask: "Am I really worthy of all this goodness? What have I done to deserve these blessings?" When a person is thus honest with himself, it will cause him to realize that the sharing of his wealth with those less fortunate is truly tzedaka--righteousness.
G-d rained upon Sodom and Gomora brimstone and fire...(Gen. 19:24)
At the present time Sodom is in its ruined state. However, when Moshiach comes and evil will be completely removed from the earth, Sodom will return to its original state of blessing and beauty, as it says, (Ezek. 16) "And I will return the captivity of Sodom."
In 5665 (1905), when war broke out between Russia and Japan, all Russian males below the age of 50 were commanded to report to their local draft boards. Many Jews did whatever they could to escape the draft, for in those years it was impossible to serve in the anti-semitic Russian Army and live as a mitzva-observant Jew. Of course, a significant number were unable to avoid being drafted, despite their mighty efforts. One of these was Mendel Dovid Gurevich, a teacher in the city of Valitch and already the father of a large family.
Mendel Dovid was a chassid of the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber, the fifth Rebbe) of Lubavitch, so as soon as he received his draft notice, he hurried off to speak with the Rebbe. He told him of the disastrous event, the extreme difficulties it would cause his family, and how distressed they all were at the evil that had befallen them. The Rebbe blessed him and said, "G-d Al-mighty will redeem you from their hands."
But Mendel Dovid's agitated heart felt no relief from the Rebbe's words. "Rebbe, a blessing is not enough for me; I need a promise!" he pleaded.
The Rebbe looked at him intensely, and then replied, "A promise I don't have for you but a blessing I do," and he repeated his original words. Mendel Dovid refused to be discouraged and again requested an explicit promise, but the Rebbe merely repeated the same words for a third time.
Mendel Dovid took his leave of the Rebbe and returned home. He strengthened himself and his faith in the Rebbe's blessing, and tried to be optimistic about the future. Nevertheless, he felt he had no choice but to make his own plans for when he would have to appear at the draft board.
The dreaded day arrived. Mendel Dovid reported to the draft center. Thousands of new soldiers converged there with him. They passed through a series of medical tests and other examinations, under the supervision of officers who would determine who would be shipped off to battle and who would be assigned non life-threatening duties at the home front.
All Mendel Dovid's attempts to gain an exemption were fruitless. Indeed, he was even found fit to be sent to a battle regiment. His only hope was the blessing of the Rebbe Rashab, even though it was impossible to imagine how it could possibly be fulfilled at this point. What would happen to his family? What would become of him? It seemed he needed a miracle.
At the conclusion of all the tests and classification procedures, all the draftees were assembled for their first military inspection. The officer in charge was a General Kazaroff. With a fiery speech, he attempted to enthuse his new troops about the great merit that had fortunately come to them: to be privileged to defend with their lives their dear, beloved mother country.
When he finished speaking, the draftees turned to go to their respective ways. The general indicated to them that they should remain where they were for just a few more moments. He strode into his headquarters, and then quickly emerged. They could see that he was holding a piece of paper. The general glanced at the note. "Who is Gurevich Mendel?" he called out.
Mendel Dovid began to tremble uncontrollably from fright. He took a moment to try to figure out what could possibly be the reason that the general was singling him out in front of thousands of soldiers, but couldn't think of anything. He doubted if it could be good. Hesitatingly, he stepped forward and presented himself. The general merely glanced in his direction and said, "You are discharged. You may go home." He turned on his heels and left, leaving a stunned but ecstatic Jew momentarily frozen in place.
After a few moments, Mendel Dovid was able to accept that it wasn't a wistful dream. It really was true! He was free! "I believed in the Rebbe's blessing," he said to himself as he joyfully set out for Valitch, "but I never imagined it could come true so quickly or in such an extraordinary fashion."
The following Shabbat Menachem Dovid sponsored a large kiddush at the Chabad shul. He told them the whole story: how the Rebbe had repeated his blessing three times in identical wording, and the wondrous manner in which he had obtained his speedy release. Everyone listened in rapt attention and sincerely shared in the joy of his deliverance.
Then, one of the chassidim rose, and offered to shed light on how the Rebbe's blessing had become enclosed in this particular natural-seeming guise. "This General Kazaroff," he began, "used to live in our city. The rented apartment he dwelled in was owned by a Jew. A few months ago his landlord passed away. The heirs made clear their intention to raise the rent. Kazaroff very much wanted to continue living there, but not to pay any additional money. He approached the heirs and proposed that if they agreed to not increase his rent, he would repay them in a different way. In the upcoming large draft, he would exercise his powers as a general to obtain the release of a Valitch Jewish soldier.
"His new landlords accepted this unusual offer, and Kazaroff continued to live in the apartment for the same sum. About a month ago, however, he moved out. Since war had erupted, he was forced to leave Valitch and relocate nearer to the front. In the meantime, he was appointed the general in charge of the draft, and it seems he didn't forget his promise. He must have perused the draft list for a Jewish-sounding name from Valitch, and the first one he came across was that of our friend, Menachem Dovid Gurevitch."
"In the time to come... the Jewish people will say [to our patriarch Yitzchak (Isaac)]: 'For you are our father.' " (Isaiah 63:16) The name Yitzchak implies laughter, and hence, delight. In the time to come, when all the sparks of Divinity embedded in the material universe will have been uncovered and elevated, G-d's delight at the completion of this task will become manifest.
(Torah Or, Vayeitzei, p. 21c)