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Anyone who's done any writing knows that you rarely get it right the first time. Oh, sure, in the midst of composition, there's breathless excitement and a feeling that every word is pure genius. But when we finish our - essay, poem, story, or even letter to the editor - and put it aside for a while, it becomes clear that it still needs some work. And we're not talking about simply correcting grammatical or spelling errors. Sometimes, in fact, it needs so much revision that we get rid of almost all of the original. Then the final version looks like nothing we started with!
Of course, one can take revisions to extremes, rewriting far too little or far too much.
When it comes to our understanding and practice of Judaism, we also need constant revision. Sometimes we just need to "tweak" what we're doing - the equivalent of adding a punctuation mark. Sometimes we need to start over, to re-examine our priorities, the equivalent of a complete rewrite.
For instance, sometimes the way we pray grows stale. Whether we attend services daily, weekly or even less frequently, and even if our prayers consist of a few words heavenward from the privacy of our own living room, still adjustments, minor or major, might be in order. This can mean just taking a minute or two to remind ourselves of the meaning of a prayer. A more extensive "revision" might involve taking the time - and classes - to learn what the prayers mean. Still, if we see that there's a kind of dryness, a lack of interest, a sense of praying out of habit, or out of a vague sense of knowing that we are talking to G-d and asking for our needs, but still, our heart isn't in it. If that is the case then it may be that a complete "rewrite" is in order. This revision will require that we examine our entire approach, to break down what we are doing and why, see what's not working, and find new ways to "restate" our feelings and thoughts in the prayers we say.
What is true for prayer is equally so in the expansion of our knowledge of our faith and traditions. Whether we engage in Jewish observance in a sporadic fashion, or we are fully committed 24/7 to Jewish life and study; whether we were born into a family where Jewish observance is taken for granted or we chose to get more involved at a later stage of life; whether we are just dabbling at the surface of Jewish knowledge or we are committed to daily portions of Torah study and just need to "tweak" our schedule to make sure to keep up; whether we feel that we ought to gain overall familiarity with the complete core of Torah knowledge through embarking on a systematic study regimen or we are embarking on learning to read Hebrew.
Whatever our level in Judaism, we should always be looking for ways to adjust, "revise" and rework.
Whether in prayer, study or in good deeds that we do, the end will be that we will emerge from the creative process of shaping ourselves as Jews with a better finished product.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, G-d promises Jacob: "I am the L-rd G-d of Abraham your father and the G-d of Isaac; the land on which you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed."
According to our Sages, "G-d folded up the entire Land of Israel beneath him, thereby hinting that it would be as easily conquered by his descendants as four cubits, which is the area that a person covers." In the same way that conquering a tiny space (the four cubits Jacob occupied when he lay down to sleep) is easy, so too would it be easy for Jacob's children to conquer the entirety of the Land of Israel.
Two generations previously, when G-d promised Abraham that Israel would belong to him and his descendants, He commanded him: "Arise and walk through the land in its length and in its breadth, for I will give it to you." Abraham strode throughout the Land of Israel, visiting any location he wished without interference. He walked through the Land as its "baal habayit" (proprietor), thereby demonstrating his ownership.
G-d's promise was in effect even before Abraham's sojourn. But after he walked the length and breadth of the Land, he was able to more strongly perceive the fulfillment of G-d's words.
Jacob, by contrast, was never commanded to "walk"; it was enough for him to lie down on the ground to sleep. Jacob did not openly demonstrate his ownership of the Land. No one else was present, and thus no one knew that G-d "folded up the entire Land of Israel beneath him."
The innovation in G-d's promise to Jacob (as opposed to His promise to Abraham) was that the Land of Israel would be conquered easily and without effort. You will not have to do anything to obtain it; just lie down on the earth, and it will come into your possession.
G-d promised the Jewish people that they would conquer the Land successfully and effortlessly.
Today, there are some Jews who must still be convinced that the entirety of the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people forever. There are some Jews who are not entirely sure of our ownership of the Land.
Nothing is created by G-d without a purpose. No element in the world exists that has no function, nor does G-d do anything "coincidentally" or without significance. If G-d "folded up the entire Land of Israel" to show Jacob that it would easily conquered, He did so because that is the true reality!
Adapted from Volume 20 of Likutei Sichot
Brine Enthusiasts Get in a Pickle - or Two
by Keren Engelberg
A couple of months ago, I was in a New York diner with my husband and in-laws when I had a minor epiphany.
We'd just placed our orders and the waiter had brought over our drinks, along with the requisite plate of pickles. My mother-in-law took one look at them and turned to my father-in-law. "Joe, are those goyishe pickles, or are they half-sours?" she asked. Acting as taste-tester, my father-in-law dutifully bit into a spear, and assured her it was kosher.
"Goyishe pickles," I thought, and smiled. Instinctively, I understood what she'd meant. There are Jewish pickles, and there are most certainly non-Jewish pickles. I was raised in a Jewish home, one that took Jewish food quite seriously. But even as a sweet gherkin never entered our house, the concept of Jewish versus goyishe pickles had never been raised aloud.
I assumed my mother-in-law's term was her own invention. But that was before I heard about a class at Chabad of the Conejo called "The Art of Kosher Pickle Making," and before I spoke to the Kosher Pickle Rabbi -- Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Cypress/Los Alamitos.
It all started with Marcus' visits to an elderly friend's home. After many visits of laying tefillin together, Marcus learned his friend had once been in the pickle business. The man, who was retired, still made pickles at home, and offered one to Marcus. "I had a taste, and they were fantastic," Marcus said. "I started coming back every Thursday. I'd put on tefillin, and I'd get a pickle."
Last February, it occurred to the two that kosher pickle making would be one Jewish lesson Marcus' Hebrew High students might appreciate, but "we didn't expect it to blow up as it did," Marcus said. Parents were as interested in the class as the kids were, and Marcus quickly followed up the Hebrew High class with a general class a month later. It included about 50 people, and about 15 percent of them were non-Jews, by Marcus' estimation.
Since then, interest has only grown. They have created a booklet now used by some private schools to guide students through the experience. Marcus says he's heard from curious parties as distant as Florida.
The workshop teaches people the history of the American kosher dill, how to make their own pickles, as well as what makes a "kosher" pickle (answer: kosher salt), and what makes a goyishe pickle (answer: vinegar).
So I guess my mother-in-law didn't make up the term. But I told Rabbi Marcus about that day in the diner, and apparently I'm not the only one with a pickle story.
"As a Chabad rabbi, you do more than one program in your life," Marcus said, "But with 'Kosher Pickle Making,' no one could just call and tell me 'Put us down for two people.' Everybody had a song and dance: 'I'm coming because my grandmother' ... or 'I'm coming because my daughter....' A lot of people who come, there's a pickle connection. Everybody's got pickle baggage."
I Go Visiting
In this warm and cozy book about a young child's first sleep over visit at a friend's house, a young brother and sister experience what it's like to be a considerate guest. They share toys at playtime, say blessings at mealtime, help to clean up, say "thank you" to their friend's mother, and so much more! Written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld, published by Hachai Publishing.
What's in a Flame? The Chanukah discourse Ki Atah Neri from Shaarei Orah employs the multiple images of the lamp, the oil, the wick and the different hues of the flame in order to express profound guidance in the divine service of every individual. Written by Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, translated by Rabbi Naftali Loewenthal. The popular Chasidic Heritage Series present Chasidut to the reader in a truly user-friendly format.Includes the first English biography of the Mittler Rebbe ever printed. Published by Kehot Publication Society.
Synagogue Edition Chumash
The "Synagogue Edition" of the Gutnick chumash is a new, single volume Chumash (Five Books of Moses) from the highly acclaimed Gutnick Chumash set. The commentaries are drawn from a staggering 1,200 talks and discourses of the Rebbe. The translation and commentaries are unsurpassed. Published by Kol Menachem.
25 Sivan, 5712 
Greetings and Blessings!
I received your letter ... in which you describe the state of your business affairs, your considerable debts, etc. etc. You write further that you have a possibility of selling some of your properties, but that you find yourself unable to decide alone what you should do. Above all, it appears from your letter that you are dispirited, so that as a matter of course your trust in G-d has weakened.
The phrase I just used was "above all." As is stated in our holy sources in general and in the literature of Chassidus in particular, everything depends on bitachon, the attribute of trust. A man's trust is the measuring stick of the extent to which his material affairs are bound and fused with the Creator. If this fusion is complete, it is certainly impossible for anything to be lacking, because in the worlds Above, the concept of lacking is utterly non-existent.
In accordance with your request, I mentioned your name in connection with the fulfillment of your needs when I visited the holy resting place of my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe. That said, since you asked for my advice, I hold that you should focus on toiling on yourself - to fortify your trust in G-d to the greatest extent possible.
In truth, having the attribute of trust means that even if according to the laws of nature one sees no way out, in one's mind it is beyond all doubt that everything will be good, in a way that is actually visible and manifest to fleshly eyes, with regard to having an ample livelihood, sound health, and so on.
From the perspective of the world Above, considerations of nature are quite immaterial. Accordingly, once a person raises himself up and adopts a stance that is even slightly above the ground - that is, he brings himself to the realization that since he is a believing Jew, [he is] utterly certain that there is no master over him but G-d alone - he can draw down [and actualize this certainty] here, too, so that in this physical world, too, considerations of nature will not affect him adversely (G-d forbid).
I firmly hope to G-d that if you will only fortify your trust to the utmost, you will immediately see a change in the Providence which governs your material business affairs and that your situation will begin to improve, and to proceed from good to even better.
In addition, it would be appropriate to immediately begin giving tzedakah (charity) as you used to do, and to increase your accustomed donations at least slightly. I look forward to hearing good news from you on all the above.
With blessings for material success, and may the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] be fulfilled in your life - that the Holy One, blessed be He, grants Jews materiality, and they transform materiality into spirituality.
From In Good Hands, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, published by Sichos in English
24 Menachem Av, 5713 (1953)
I received your letter and pidyon nefesh (prayer request) and will read it at an auspicious time at the tziyun, the sacred resting place, of my father-in-law, the Rebbe.
I believe I have already written to you that you need to be more careful in guarding your physical health. Thus you are to be strict in following the doctor's orders and not take them lightly, for guarding one's health is also part of our holy Torah and is a mitzvah (commandment) similar to all other mitzvos.
Moreover, there is the well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad chasidism] (quoted in HaYom Yom, entry for Rosh HaShanah eve): "We have absolutely no conception of how precious a Jew's body is to G-d" - and that which is stated many times in Chassidus needs no further proof [of its veracity].
When some people say that they are "mehadrin," [i.e., they observe mitzvos in the most scrupulous and beautiful manner,] and that is why they are not careful in guarding their health - in truth, such conduct is the very opposite of scrupulous observance.
Conduct yourself in the above manner [of taking care of your health], and G-d will grant you material as well as spiritual good health.
From Healthy In Body, Mind and Spirit, translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
On which arm are tefilin worn and why?
In the Torah's description of the commandment to wear tefilin, the word "your arm" is spelled in an unusual way. By writing the word "yadcha" with the Hebrew letter hei at the end, it can also be read "the weak arm." Therefore a right-handed man wears them on the left arm and a left-handed person on the right arm. Another reason is that one motive behind wearing tefilin is to help us control our heart's desires and direct them towards serving G-d in a better manner. Since the majority of people are right-handed, the tefilin are placed on the same side as the heart, thereby reminding us of this aspiration. For this same reason they are placed in such a position that when the arm is held down, the tefilin face the heart rather than straight frontwards. This is the meaning behind the phrase in the Shema, "Place these words of Mine upon your heart."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Tuesday, the 14th of Kislev, marks the wedding anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rebbetzin.
The Rebbe spoke many times about the significance of a Jewish wedding and its connection with Moshiach. On one occasion (in 1989), the Rebbe related:
"At every wedding of a groom and bride we recite the wedding blessings, beginning with 'Who sanctifies His people Israel through Chupa and Kiddushin' and concluding with 'let there speedily be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of happiness....' These blessings are recited before a multitude, who respond with Amen.
"When an actual wedding takes place, whereby one can clearly indicate that here stand the groom and bride who were just blessed with these blessings, this serves to hasten and accelerate to an even greater degree the completed state of marriage of the Jewish people [with G-d] - 'Who sanctifies His people Israel through Chupa and Kiddushin.'
Then we will truly merit that 'there shall speedily be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride,' in our Holy Land, and in Jerusalem our holy city, and within all the cities of Judah.
"All this is particularly accomplished by increasing the measure of joy during a wedding, which is the greatest degree of joy of all, joy that knows no boundaries or limitations."
May we very soon merit to wish each other "Mazel Tov," at the most definitive wedding celebration in history.
And behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven (Gen. 28:12)
If a person thinks that he has already perfected himself and "reached heaven," it is a sure sign that in fact, he has a long way to go. For it is only when an individual considers himself lowly and "on the earth" that he is able to ascend to greater spiritual heights.
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
And, behold, the L-rd was standing over him ("Vehinei Hashem nitzav alav") (Gen. 28:13)
Rearranging the first letters of the above Hebrew verse results in the word "anav," meaning one who is humble. For it is precisely through humility, self-abnegation and acceptance of the yoke of Heaven that a person attains a sense of G-d's closeness.
And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth (Gen. 28:14)
The Jewish people is likened here to the dust of the earth, although sometimes the Torah compares the Jews to sand, and sometimes to the stars above. We learn a lesson from each of these different expressions. Stars are extremely far apart from one another in the heavens and never come into contact with each other. Grains of sand, on the other hand, are in close proximity to the other grains, but do not stick and adhere to each other. Dust, however, attaches to other particles and forms a cohesive mass. The Jewish people will receive G-d's blessings when they are as unified and undivided as dust.
And he reached a certain place (Gen. 28:11)
Our Sages relate that as soon as Yaakov decided to return, a miracle occurred and he was immediately transported on his way. We learn from this that whenever a person sincerely decides to do teshuva, to return to G-d with a humble heart, he is immediately assisted from Above. "Open up for Me a breach the size of a needle's eye, and I will open for you an opening the size of a great hall."
by E. Lesches
In his youth, the Chasid Reb Nachman - later to become the rabbi of Ushatz - had the unusual merit of studying with Reb Dov Ber (later to become the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, known as the Mitteler Rebbe). The two boys were some sixteen years of age when they began learning together. Their learning partnership lasted a year, after which Reb Nachman traveled back home and entered the world of business.
Three years passed before Reb Nachman decided it was high time to visit the Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism and father of Reb Dov Ber). Off he traveled to Liadi, where he used the opportunity to visit his old learning partner - Reb Dov Ber. He found Reb Dov Ber at home, poring over an open Talmud, and the two spent some time discussing various matters.
The next day, Reb Nachman resolved to visit Reb Dov Ber once more. Finding his friend learning Talmud again, Reb Nachman glanced at the open book and grinned broadly. "You expect me to believe you learned 36 folios of Talmud in one day?" he laughed. "Yesterday I saw you learning the fourth page in the Talmud, and now you are studying the fortieth page! You never learned this fast when we studied together."
Reb Dov Ber did not respond. The conversation turned to other matters and Reb Nachman put the incident out of his mind. He returned home a few days later and barely recovered from his journey when tragedy struck. Fire suddenly broke out in his home, burning the entire structure to the ground. Aside from losing his house, Reb Nachman also lost many valuable and important objects - close to half of his wealth. Devastated, he traveled back to the Rebbe.
Upon his arrival in Liadi, Reb Nachman was granted a private audience with the Rebbe. He related his misfortunes and asked the Rebbe to arouse Heavenly mercy to ensure that no further tragedy follow.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman listened closely. "From what I perceive, the matter has nothing to do with me," he said, surprise registering on his holy face. "Apparently, you offended someone and aroused his wrath." Continued the Rebbe, "perhaps you angered my son, Dov Ber."
Replied Reb Nachman, "This is very unlikely. We are very good friends, like true brothers." The Rebbe was silent.
Reb Nachman left the audience, his head swirling with confused thoughts. The Rebbe had implied that these tragedies were the outcome of someone's wrath, either the Rebbe or Reb Dov Ber - but how could that be? He reviewed the events of his recent visit to Liadi and realized that, perhaps, Reb Dov Ber had taken offense over the jibe aimed at his speed of learning.
Reb Nachman quickly made his way to the home of Reb Dov Ber. He related all that had transpired and of the Rebbe's assertion that his misfortunes were caused by the anger of Reb Dov Ber.
"It is true that I was upset at you," acknowledged Reb Dov Ber. "What nerve do you have to poke fun at my method of learning? True, you know firsthand that I normally learn slowly, plumbing the depths of every word I learn. But in the past three years I have sat and learned constantly while you spent time managing your business. Thank G-d, my learning was blessedly successful."
Mortified, Reb Nachman felt overawed at the saintliness of his former learning partner. Just look at the far-reaching ramifications caused by his being upset! And at the young age of nineteen!
"However," concluded Reb Dov Ber, "I am truly grieved at your misfortune, especially that this great loss was caused by my thoughts. I forgive entirely with a true forgiveness and I bless you that G-d, the All Merciful, repay your loss in full."
Reb Nachman returned home and watched the wheel of fortune turn once more, this time for the better. He regained all his former losses and made more than double his ordinary profits in his business dealings.
Reprinted with permission from Beis Moshiach magazine
Each wedding is a reflection of the ultimate wedding relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. That relationship exists, not only with the people as a whole, but also with each individual Jew.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, eve of the 17th of Tammuz, 5750 - 1990)