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There are lot of household appliances we take for granted. That is, until we need them. Then we search desperately and bemoan the absence of the one appliance we need.
Let's look at, for example, the can opener.
Before the can opener, there had to be, of course, the metal can. Before refrigerators, preserving food was a major concern, particularly for those going on long sea voyages. And so in 1813 Peter Durand invented a metal can for the British Navy. His instructions for opening the cans? "Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer."
About fifty years later, thinner steel cans came into use, and the can opener could be invented. In 1858 Ezra Warner patented one that looked like a bent knife. The tin can with a "key," like you still see on sardine cans, was patented in 1868.
The can opener we're familiar with, even in electric models, the kind that has a cutting wheel that rolls around the rim, was invented in 1870. Later on, a magnet to hold the lid was added, and in 1931 the first electric can opener was put on the market.
A method for preserving food for use on long journeys is invented. But that very method makes the food inaccessible until something else is invented.
Torah is the food of the soul; it sustains us on the long journey toward making the world a dwelling place for holiness, a journey to the Redemption.
The "can," that which preserves the food, keeps it fresh for the long journey, is Torah study, adult education classes, audio classes, Torah websites - the burgeoning use of technology to make Torah accessible at so many levels.
But according to the analogy, opening the can was often difficult and laborious. Indeed, sometimes the can couldn't be opened - the food was preserved, but inaccessible!
How does that fit with our understanding of Torah study today? Surely there are many "can openers," so to speak!
Actually, our situation has not changed much since the times of the Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Chasidic movement) and Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism) over 200 years ago. For study, scholarship, adult education classes, etc., without the right "can opener" still simultaneously preserves the "food," Torah itself, and makes it inaccessible.
In the times of the Baal Shem Tov, scholarship often led to arrogance: the learned looked down on the simple Jew, disparaging their service and heart-felt devotion. The study of Torah became a concealment of the Torah, for Torah became an academic subject, the Divine, spiritual essence covered, blocked by a metal (heart-dulling) container. Chasidut, especially as developed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, served as the spiritual "can opener," so to speak, revealing the G-dliness within the apparently lifeless study.
Then, too, adult education classes, internet study, etc., can lead to a false sense of competence. Because everything's available, in print or online, learning becomes self-contained, self-validating. Expertise becomes instantaneous, and egotistic.
For this, too, Chasidut is the "can opener": its mystical insights place law, understanding and practical mitzva observance in the proper relationship and context, inspiring us to action.
The insights of Chasidut open up all other forms of Torah study, revealing the holy, G-dly dimension, so that Torah, far from being an intellectual exercise, infuses life into every aspect of daily life - emotional, intellectual and physical.
The "can opener," that which makes the food accessible, is Chasidut.
"And it came to pass on the eighth day...and Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and then went out and blessed the people. And the glory of G-d appeared before all the people," we read in this week's Torah portion, Shemini.
The seven days of consecration had passed; it was already the eighth day, and the Divine Presence had not yet come down to rest upon the Sanctuary.
The Jewish people were getting nervous. Had all their hard work been in vain? G-d's Presence in the Sanctuary would indicate that the sin of the Golden Calf had been forgiven. What was wrong? Maybe they hadn't followed G-d's instructions properly...
As they were to find out, the only thing missing was Aaron's participation. For there is an essential difference between the service of Moshe and the service of Aaron the priest, and both were necessary in order for G-d's Presence to descend.
Moses' Divine service flowed from above to below; his function was to draw G-d's holiness down into this world. This is reflected in the fact that the Torah was given precisely through Moses, who brought it down from heaven and presented it to the Jewish people.
The direction of Aaron's Divine service, on the other hand, flowed "upward," as reflected in his kindling of the Sanctuary's menora.
His function was to elevate and raise the Jewish people towards G-d, by offering the sacrifices and performing the other services in the Sanctuary. Both thrusts - upward and downward - are required in order to effect G-d's plan of establishing a "dwelling place down in this world."
G-d imbues the world with holiness so that we, His creations, may be refined and elevated. Once the Torah was brought down by Moses, the second step was necessary, that of actually performing the service in the Sanctuary and meeting Him half way, as it were. For it is only when both thrusts are present that the dynamic process is complete, and the maximum level of holiness is attained.
The practical lesson to be derived from this is that a Jew must emulate Aaron if he sincerely wants the Divine Presence to permeate his being.
Aaron, we are told, "loved peace and pursued peace, loved [G-d's] creatures and brought them closer to Torah." Dealing in such a manner with our fellow man not only brings benefit to others but to ourselves as well, for, as noted before, it is the "upward" thrust that causes G-d's Presence to descend and rest on the works of our hands.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 7 of the Rebbe
Snorkling and Study
by Deanna Zyndorf
Let me start off by saying that I never intentionally planned on going to Key Largo for some Jewish spiritual retreat. I admit that I'm a conservative Jew, who like many non Orthodox Jews, doesn't keep strictly Kosher or go to services regularly. Growing up and living in a city where you can't distinguish the Jews from the non-Jews and people view not eating bread on Passover as a sign of true religious devotion, I could not understand why the strictly religious Jews, the Orthodox Jews, refused to get with the times. Why do men continue to resemble storybook characters like Mr. Sowerberry from Oliver Twist, with their ridiculously large top hats and suits? And don't the women ever turn on the television or glance at fashion magazines, at least at the checkout counter at the local supermarket? In the 1850s, women began to wear bloomers and then pants in the 1920s to 30s. Yet these Orthodox women continue to sport their long skirts and unrevealing shirts-not to mention, the married women wear wigs or scarves to cover their hair. These bizarre fashion statements, among other things, perplexed me. Hadn't society reached a cultural liberation in which everyone could just do his or her own thing?
One day in December out of the blue, I got a call from the Chasidic Rabbi in Toledo, Ohio, informing me of a full scholarship offered by Bais Chana for a Jewish spiritual retreat in Key Largo with other female college students. When Rabbi Shemtov mentioned that the deadline for the application was the next day, the only thing I thought was: "Spiritual retreat, resort in Florida, warm weather." I'm from Ohio. It didn't take much to convince me to book a plane flight to Miami and mount a bus with a bunch of other Jewish women to the Marriott hotel in Key Largo a few weeks later.
Less than a couple hours later, I step off of the cool bus and into the pleasant Florida weather where I soon settle into the reclusive yet charming hotel. I share a room with three other women from different backgrounds: one is from Russia, another from Uzbekistan, and one from South Africa. Less than an hour after leaving our suitcases in our rooms, everyone comes together and meets each other for dinner in the conference center, where we practically do everything together for the next week. And if my roommates' cultural diversity shocked me, then the diversity of the women in the conference center left me flabbergasted. Not even in visiting New York City, referred to as the melting pot, did I see such a high concentration of people from all over the world greet each other with such warmth and openness. It was like one big Jewish family reunion, complete with food, spiritual exploration and discussion, and bonding time. From waking up in the morning until falling asleep at night, we grew stronger and wiser as we delved into our Jewish identity as "the chosen people."
During various classes, such as Tanya with Rabbi Friedman or studying the Kabbala with Rivka Slonim we discussed Judaism not only from a religious and historical standpoint but also from a very personal one. When exploring the story of Rachel and Leah, we related their distinct personality differences to ours, how each of us has both Rachel's ability to materialize relationships and Leah's tunnel vision and power to transform a whole city. In fusing the traits of each sister into our approach to life, we have the power to conceive and to accomplish greatness in whatever we pursue in our personal or professional lives. The more we explored such Kabbalistic aspects as well as more physical manifestations of Judaism, such as why married women hide their hair, we came to a much greater appreciation of even the minute or seemingly trivial aspects of Judaism. Before classes in the morning, between classes during the day, and after classes at night, the women would congregate and chat about what really matters: the spiritual self.
This inner exploration that bonded us women also led us to explore and to admire the outer beauty of the universe. When we weren't in the conference center, we spent time taking advantage of the relaxing and invigorating surroundings. With the beach at our fingertips, a sunset that burned vibrantly rich colors in the sky, and the opportunity to go snorkeling, jet skiing, swimming, parasailing, you name it, boredom became a foreign territory. We were too immersed in enjoying the beauty of life to lose ourselves to superficiality or negativity. The bond that we shared helped us not only to relate to one another, but also to understand how each and every one of us is a piece of the great puzzle and chosen to follow G-d's will. However abstract this notion of will versus human desire seemed before having gone to Key Largo, I left the retreat particularly struck with the relevancy of destiny and fate in my life. At what point do coincidences become far more significant than mere coincidence? Quite simply, for anyone curious about learning about Judaism, spending time at a resort in Florida, or coming to better appreciate the beauty of nature, I encourage you to embrace this opportunity as something much more than transitory. This experience will widen your eyes unto a world far more magnificent and mysterious than our minds can ever fathom.
Women's Retreat in Berkshires
From April 22-26, 2007, Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds will explore the Ten Sefirot: A Guide to the Powers of the Soul. Participants can attend any or all of the five-day Jewish study retreat being held at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in the breathtaking Berkshire Mountains. Top educators, Rabbi Manis Friedman, Shimonah Tzukernik, and others, will cover Kabbala, Talmud, Bible, prayer, Jewish traditions, laws and ethics, as well as relationships, the male-female dynamic, and the complexity of the spiritual self. Boating, tennis, hiking, fitness workshops and massage are all available. No previous Jewish education is necessary. Visit www.baischana.org for more info; email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 800.473.4801 (718.604.0088 outside US & Canada).
Rabbi Yosef Y. and Sarah Refsun are opening a new Chabad House in Charlston, South Carolina. Their activities will include adult education, holiday programs and youth activities. Rabbi Zalman and Hindy Gurevitz are relocating soon to Morgantown, West Virginia, where they will be opening a Chabad Center for the students and faculty of West Virginia University. Another new Chabad House on campus is being opened by Rabbi Boruch Sholom and Chanie Kantor at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Elad area council is giving the local Chabad House, run by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Silberman, a new building in a new area of the city, called "Quarter A." The Chabad House is already running a city library for local residents, which has around 2,000 books, thousands of Torah audio cassettes and videos, and a large computerized database of information on the responsa project.
The council allotted a building for the Chabad House when they saw how successful their projects are. These projects include regular farbrengens and shiurim with leading Rabbis and teachers.
Freely translated and adapted
11 Menachem Av, 5710 (1950)
Greetings and blessings,
...With regard to what you wrote - that you wanted to write a longer letter but refrained from doing so because I am very busy: I want to assure you that I am always happy to receive detailed letters and I read them with the appropriate concentration. It may, however, happen that my reply will be delayed because of the large amount of work. I would like that, in such an instance, you not be offended and indeed, you probably will not become offended.
In continuation of my previous letter, whose content emphasized working with others, I would like to add several lines about the nature of the work which every person must and can achieve with himself. As my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe (hk"m), once said in his talks: "We must work with others, but we may not forget about ourselves."
Nevertheless, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) is aptly called "the clever one," and therefore approaches every individual according to his particular character. If it sees that a person has abilities in communal activities (the field of social work), it tells him: "Why should you work on yourself? Saving lives supersedes everything. And besides, if you can make others more observant, there is no need to take care of one's own Divine service."
This is what the Rebbe sought to clarify, that one can't let himself be convinced by the words of "the clever one": one must always examine oneself to see if all the aspects of his conduct are as they should be, as mandated by the Torah and its mitzvos (commandments) , as clarified by Chassidus.
In general, one's Divine service with one's own self involves three dimensions: Torah study, service (prayer), and deeds of kindness. All of these must be performed as avodah, labor, working on oneself with strenuous exertion. As long as one does not exert himself, his Divine service is not being conducted as it should. As stated in Tanya, ch. 15, the battle with the yetzer hara requires that one struggle to advance in his Divine service] far more than his nature motivates him. Only then] is he referred to as "a servant of G-d."
Every person must carefully judge the extent to which he carries out the awesome battle with the yetzer hara, as clarified at length in Tanya, ch. 30.
I hope you will not take offense at my writing openly. I await hearing good news from you, both in your work on yourself and your work with others.
Wishing you all forms of good and with blessing to you and your household,
23 Menachem Av, 5710 (1950)
Greetings and blessings,
In reply to your letter of the Friday preceding Shabbos Nachamu which brought the news that you are settled in an appropriate position:
Thank you for the good news. May G-d grant you the merit of always bearing only good news both regarding your individual situation and your surroundings.
I mention "your surroundings" based on the ruling of Maimonides (Hilchos Deos 6:1) which states that: "Man's inherent tendency is that his character and conduct are influenced by his friends and comrades.... Therefore a person should join together with the righteous and reside with the wise...."
There Maimonides is speaking about a person's character as a recipient, which is the first stage of his development. Immediately thereafter, he must also become a source of influence for others, as my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe (hk"m) requested in his talk printed in Kuntres Yud-Beis Tammuz, 5710, sec. 3: "See to it that you yourself are alive and make others alive."
Since this goal is demanded of us, we are certainly given the potential to achieve it. If he would only desire, each one of us will be able to shine light within his surroundings. The meaning of "light" in this context is solely the Torah and its mitzvos (commandments), as it is written: "For a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah, light."
Signing with blessings and with greetings,
From "I Will Write It In Their Hearts," translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos in English
Why is Shalom Aleichem- "Peace unto you, angels" sung before kiddush on Friday night?
Since in the hustle and bustle of Shabbat preparations, members of the household might irritate one another, the angels are called upon to restore peace. Also, according to the Midrash, when returning home from the synagogue, we are escorted by two angels, one good and one evil. When they enter the home and see everything beautiful and serene, the good angel blesses the family, and the evil one must answer "amen."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat afternooon, we begin the cycle of study of Ethics of the Fathers that will customarily continue until Rosh Hashana. The opening lines of Chapter One express a fundamental and axiomatic concept in Judaism:
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly."
Why is it important for us to know this chain of transmission? To teach us that the Torah we have in our possession today is the very same Torah that was revealed to Moses thousands of years ago. And, as links in the ongoing chain of tradition, it is our duty as Jewish parents to transmit the Torah to our children.
The Torah has an infinite number of facets. Some parts are narrative, others are legal codes, while other sections are allegorical. The Five Books of Moses, Talmud, Midrashim, Shulchan Aruch, Chasidut - all are part and parcel of the G-dly body of knowledge we call Torah.
Some parts of the Torah were meant to be written down; others were transmitted orally until the proper time came to put them into writing. (This is one reason why the non-Jewish "Bible" bears little resemblance to the Torah; ignorance of the Oral Tradition has led to many false interpretations and absurdities over the millennia!)
At Sinai, Moses received the entirety of Torah with all its potential for extrapolation, "even that which the scholar would innovate in the future." An halachic decision rendered today is Torah, revealed to man according to a Divinely-inspired "timetable" of revelation. This process will reach its culmination in the Messianic era, when Moshiach will teach the world a new and deeper dimension of Torah, as it states in Isaiah 51:4: "For Torah shall proceed from Me, and I will make My judgment suddenly for a light of the people."
May it happen at once.
Shimon HaTzadik... used to say: "The world stands upon three things - upon Torah, upon Divine service and upon acts of kindness." (1:2)
This Mishna refers to the author of its message as Shimon HaTzadik - the Righteous. A truly saintly, righteous person is not satisfied with working upon himself only, but makes an effort to influence the world as well, as the verse states, "G-d is righteous and loves righteousness."
(Biurim l'Pirkei Avot)
Yose ben Yoezer of Tzreida said: "Make your house a meeting place of the Sages; sit in the dust at their feet; and thirstily drink their words." (1:4)
Whereas Yose ben Yoezer's teacher aimed at perfecting the person himself, Yose ben Yoezer instructed his disciples to aspire to an even higher level - he taught how a person is to permeate even his house with love and awe of G-d.
(The Maharal of Prague)
Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said: "Let your house be wide open; treat the poor as members of your own family..." (1:5)
Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan continues the theme of perfecting one's house. In order for holiness to permeate one's home, it is insufficient to merely love Torah. The love of Torah must be combined with the love of one's fellow Jew, expressed in acts of kindness. However, this must be done in such a way that one's hospitality will not result in undesirable negative consequences.
(The Maharal of Prague)
Yankel the innkeeper lived in an isolated hamlet for so long that he hardly remembered that he was a Jew. Shabbat was a word he hardly recalled. Day and night he served the Polish peasants who bought drinks in his little inn. Nothing new ever happened and one year slipped unnoticed into the next.
One day, however, a stately-looking Jew entered Yankel's inn and disturbed Yankel's quiet existence. This visitor was none other than the famous tzadik, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, who had leased a hut in the middle of a forest in order to meditate and pray in the stillness of the woods. At times, however, he came to the inn to purchase food, and that is how he came to know Yankel.
When the tzadik had first entered his inn, something deep inside Yankel stirred and prompted him to say to the rabbi, "You know, Sir, I too, am a Jew."
"How can you live in a place where there are no other Jews?" the tzadik queried him. "Why, it seems you have even forgotten our holy traditions. My poor brother, why, even the animals of Jews refrain from work on the Shabbat. Can you do even less than that?"
Yankel blushed at Rabbi Moshe Leib's words. "But, Rabbi," he continued, "I have to stay open on Shabbat or the peasants buy their drinks elsewhere, and I will be destitute!"
"Nevertheless," Rabbi Moshe Leib insisted, "you must close on Shabbat. How can a holy Jewish soul do less than the donkey of a Jew who is kept from working on the Sabbath day?"
When Yankel saw that the tzadik was adamant, he began to think and he resolved to close the inn on Shabbat.
Yankel's announcement provoked a bitter reaction from his customers. "If you refuse to sell us liquor, we'll...we'll... complain to the landlord! He'll throw you out! You can't do this to us!"
Yankel knew they were as good as their words -- particularly when it touched the issue of vodka. He walked deep into the forest until he found the hut of the tzadik. "The peasants are threatening to ruin me," Yankel cried.
"Don't worry. Bolt the doors. If the landlord questions you, do not hesitate to tell him that your G-d commanded Jews to keep the Sabbath day holy," replied Rabbi Moshe Leib.
The innkeeper was very frightened, but he resolved to do as the tzadik said. Shabbat arrived and Yankel bolted the door of his inn. The peasants arrived and began to pound on the door and windows trying to get in. Finally, the voice of the landlord could be heard outside, demanding that Yankel open up the inn.
Yankel had no choice but to open, and it was a very angry poritz who entered the inn crying, "Who do you think you are, denying vodka to your customers!? Why else did I lease this inn, except to make a profit?"
"Sire," began a frightened Yankel, "surely you know I am a Jew. Just recently I was told by a holy Jew that our Torah forbids us to work on the Sabbath day. That is why I have closed the inn today."
The directness of the reply intrigued the landowner. "Where is this person? Bring him to me!"
Soon, Rabbi Moshe Leib was standing before the landlord. "Tell me, Jew, does this prohibition against working apply to a Jew who is in danger of losing his livelihood?" he asked, in a cutting tone.
"Sire, it applies even in such a case," was the tzadik's reply.
"Why do you torment this man? I doubt your answer would be the same if it applied to you. I will find out, and if you are really sincere, I will permit the inn to close on the Sabbath." The landlord left, a plan hatching in his mind.
The following Shabbat, the landowner rode into the forest with a bag of gold coins. When he saw Rabbi Moshe Leib leaving his hut, he scattered the coins on the floor of the forest and waited to see what would transpire. At first the tzadik passed right by the coins, but then he returned and examined them closely. The landlord waited gleefully for the fatal moment when the Jew would eagerly scoop them into his hands. But no, he continued walking.
The landower then rushed out of his hiding place. "I am very impressed, and I will keep my end of the deal. But tell me, why did you first ignore the money and then bend down to examine it?"
"I will explain," began Rabbi Moshe Leib. "At first, I ignored the money, for it was Shabbat. But then, I began to think how I needed the money to rescue many imprisoned Jews. Perhaps that mitzva overrides the prohibitions of the Shabbat.
I became confused, and then I prayed to G-d to give me direction.
Suddenly I understood. G-d could certainly provide me with the money in a permissible way. Sire, if I had taken or hidden the money, you would not have understood my motives. You would have assumed that I was taking it for my own desires. I have always scrupulously observed the Shabbat, and now Heaven has protected me from coming to any harm. Surely, now you can see the importance of keeping the holiness of the Sabbath.".
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, as it says, "With equity shall he rebuke the meek of the earth." (Isaiah 11:9) Though here, as in other areas, Moshiach will find extenuating circumstances.