An Aquarium of the Soul | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Customs | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Have you ever sat and watched an aquarium? Whatever - or whenever - the source of the encounter, almost everyone agrees that aquariums are relaxing. The rippling of the water in and out of the tank, the waving of the fronds and little plants (real or not), the easy glide of the fish themselves, in and out of whatever cave or tunnel one dropped in, the swirl of colors, dappling through the spectrum as the bodies swish, a constant, rather random, motion - smooth movement for its own sake - all this calms the mind, eases tension and, according to studies, even lowers blood pressure.
Of course, we know that fish never sleep, never stop moving, never leave their environment. And they're prolific. Jewish teachings have made many references to fish, as metaphors, and analogies between fish and the Jewish people.
Perhaps the most famous analogy is that made by Rabbi Akiva. During the time following the destruction of the Second Temple, when the Roman persecution became so intense that study of Torah was forbidden upon pain of death, Rabbi Akiva, already the leading scholar of his day, continued to teach Torah openly, in defiance of the Roman decree. Some colleagues, friends, students came to him, concerned that if caught, as surely he would be if he continued, he would be executed.
In response he told them the following: a fox saw some fish swimming furiously downstream. He asked them why, and they said they were fleeing the fisherman's net. The fox invited them onto dry ground, where they'd be safe from the net and he'd protect them. They responded, "foolish fox, if in the water, which is our very life, we are not safe, can we survive out of it?" So, too, Rabbi Akiva said, Torah is our "water," our very life, and like fish we cannot survive out of it, even if there is danger in it.
It was a clever analogy on another level, for fish - all fish with fins and scales - are kosher, and Jews are a kosher people.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe finds another analogy, a spiritual or mystical lesson for the "kosher people" learned from the characteristics that make fish kosher.
Water, as already mentioned, is akin to Torah - the waters of life, the waters of the soul, the waters of holiness. What makes a fish kosher? Fins and scales. So we can say that the spiritual equivalent of fins and scales enable us to navigate these "waters of holiness."
That is, just as fins and scales enable a fish to survive - and be kosher - in water, so our spiritual "fins and scales" - whatever they are - enable us to navigate and survive the waters of Torah and holiness.
We mentioned that fish have to move constantly - otherwise, biologically, they drown. And their fins enable them to move. Similarly, then, in order to survive, to thrive in holiness, and navigate the Torah, we must be constantly moving, constantly learning, constantly searching for new understanding, new meaning.
And scales? Scales protect the fish, obviously. But, then, in the "waters of holiness" why would we need protection? And from what? They protect us - from not being us. Scales (like skin) define our being. They keep us pure by keeping us true to ourselves - keeping out elements that would corrupt us, make us "non-kosher."
"Ambition and Integrity": the "fins and scales" with which we survive in the aquarium of our soul.
This week's Torah portion, Pekudei, relates how Moses made a personal account of all the silver and copper that was donated to build the Sanctuary. The purpose of this inventory was to remove any doubt that the donations were not being utilized for their intended purpose.
The Midrash, however, relates that Moses came up short when tallying the amount of silver: 1775 shekalim of silver were unaccounted for. At that moment, a heavenly voice rang out and proclaimed, "The 1775 [shekalim of silver] were used to make the hooks of the pillars." In this way G-d declared Moses to be beyond all suspicion, as it states, "Not so My servant Moses; in My entire house he is [the most] faithful."
A question is asked: If G-d's sole intent was to attest to Moses' honesty, why was it necessary for him to make an account in the first place? Why couldn't a "heavenly voice" have proclaimed Moses' faithfulness without his having to actually go through the process of counting?
We learn from this that there was a deeper intent behind Moses' taking inventory, a purpose that went beyond merely tabulating the amounts of precious metals that were donated or to remove suspicion.
Rather, Moses played an integral role in the function of the Sanctuary itself, as will be explained.
Although the Sanctuary was erected with the contributions of individuals, at the same time, it was a product of the Jewish people as a whole. This transformation - from a collection of donations made by disparate individuals into an entirely new, collective entity - was brought about by Moses, the leader of the generation.
When an individual Jew makes a contribution, his state of mind is an important factor. Some people make a donation willingly and with all their heart, while others are more hesitant. Moses, however, the Jewish "king," whose "heart is the heart of the congregation of Israel," was able to combine and unite the singular contributions and turn them into a collective whole.
One of the reasons the Sanctuary is called "the Sanctuary of testimony" is that the Divine Presence resting within it attested to G-d's having forgiven the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf.
Moses, the only Jew who remained absolutely untainted by the sin, was thus the only person who could effect this transformation and cause G-d's Presence to dwell in the physical world.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. 26
It's All in Perspective
by Rae Ekman Shagalov
Last Thursday night a wonderful thing happened, but it did not look so wonderful in the beginning. I was driving home on my 10-mile commute after a long day at work. After a mile or so, my car began to lose power and then it died altogether. Fortunately, I was able to glide off the main road as I was losing power and stopped in a quiet neighborhood. I had a sinking feeling...
"Oh no," I thought, "What if my clutch just went out. Maybe it's the generator or something in the electrical system. Maybe the head gasket blew and I'll need a new engine. Maybe I'll have to get a new car altogether. Where am I going to get the money for expensive repairs or a new car?" I called my husband to get the card number for the towing service because I didn't even have the card with me. "Guess what," I said, "my car just died!" Just then, the tow truck arrived, so I hung up the phone. The driver got into my car and tried to start it up without success.
"Lady," he said, "I think you ran out of gas."
"Out of gas?" I shouted, "I never even thought to check the gas!"
I called up my husband right away, "Good news!" I said, "Thank G-d, I just ran out of gas." Then I thought about what I had just said. If, when my car had first stalled, I had thought to look at the gas gauge right away, my reaction would have been completely different, something like this:
"How could I have been so dumb? Why didn't I check the gas? What a drag..." and so on. But because I had imagined so much worse, the idea of running out of gas was delightful, good news - but it got even better!
As it turned out, my husband was returning from an errand and was only five minutes away. When I was up and running again, we went out to dinner, enjoying a lovely unplanned date in the middle of a busy week.
The incident reminded me of the following Chasidic story. It reveals the amazing secret of happiness that is present in every situation in life.
The two saintly brothers, Rebbe Zushe and Rebbe Elimelech, who lived in 18th century Poland, wandered from town to town for years, disguised as beggars, seeking to refine their characters and encourage and teach their fellows.
One day, while traveling with a group of vagabonds, one of the beggars was accused of stealing. Since justice then was not like justice today, the entire band of beggars was thrown into jail. When it came the time to pray Mincha, the afternoon prayers, Rabbi Zushe noticed his brother weeping silently.
"Why are you crying?" asked Rabbi Zushe.
R. Elimelech pointed to the pail situated in the corner of the room which the inmates used for a toilet. "As you know, Jewish law forbids one to pray in a room with such a repulsive odor," he told his brother, "This will be the first time in my life in which I will not have the opportunity to pray the afternoon prayers."
"And why are you upset about this?" asked R. Zushe.
"What do you mean?" responded his brother, "How can I not pray the mandatory Mincha prayers?"
"By not praying in this room," said R. Elimelech, "you are also doing a mitzva (commandment)! The same G-d who commanded you to pray Mincha commands you not to pray under these circumstances. True, it is not the mitzva connection that you had sought, yet, if you truly want the Divine connection, you would be happy that G-d has given you the opportunity to obey His law at this time, no matter what it is."
His brother's perspective elated R. Elimelech's heart. The awareness that the waste-filled pail in the corner of the room allowed him the opportunity to enjoy an intimate, though different type of relationship with G-d, inspired him so deeply that he began to dance.
The two brothers were now holding hands and dancing in celebration of their newly discovered relationship with their Father in heaven. The non-Jewish inmates imprisoned in the same cell were so moved by the sight, that they soon joined the dancing. It did not take long before the entire room was swept away by an electrifying energy of joy, as dozens of prisoners were dancing and jumping around ecstatically. The guards heard the commotion and came running. They asked the other prisoners what had happened.
"We have no idea!" they answered, "Those two Jews were discussing the pail in the corner when, all of a sudden they came to some happy conclusion and began to dance."
"Is that right?" sneered the guards, "They're happy because of the pail, are they? We'll show them!" They promptly removed the pail from the cell.
Rebbe Zushe turned to his brother and said, "And now, my brother, you can begin your prayers."
So, what do these two stories have in common? I've come to recognize that the art of happiness is largely a matter of perspective. We don't always have the choice of our circumstances, but we do always have the ability to choose to be happy. We may not be happy about our situation, but we can always be happy to connect with G-d. May you be blessed to always be happy and to serve G-d with joy!
Dedicated in memory of my dear mother, Devorah Rivka bas Yosef Eliezer and her father, Yosef Eliezer ben Moshe of blessed memory whose yartzeits are on Rosh Chodesh Adar, may their souls have an elevation in Heaven. Rae Ekman Shagalov can be reached at www.holysparks.org
New Torah Scrolls
The Chabad Center for Jewish Discovery in Manhattan commenced the writing of a new Torah scroll this month, dedicated in memory of Asaf Tessler. In Hadera, Israel, a Torah scroll was completed and accompanied, amidst great rejoicing, to the Chabad House in that city.
New Children's Home
In Krivoy Rog, Ukraine, the Ohr Avner Chabad Day School hosted a celebration to mark the opening of a home for children from impoverished families. The new Children's Home currently accommodates 12 children and the number is likely to be increased in the future.
Freely translated and adapted
3 Tammuz, 5716 (1956)
I was pleased to receive your letter of May 15th. I also enjoyed reading there about your interest in Chassidus, as well as some of your comments and views regarding the above, particularly in reference to the quality of joy.
To comment on that which you write, that the feeling of joy is related to the glandular excretion of hormones, etc., that reach the brain together with the flow of blood, and so on:
Since body and soul are totally connected and united, forming one entity, it follows that every phenomenon in the spiritual realm will also result in a physical phenomenon.
I trust that you will agree with me that such a unity within the microcosm of man, serving as it does as an analogy and illustration of the true unity found within the macrocosm of the universe as a whole, is not at all similar to the philosophy of pantheism - which posits that everything is natural and physical - but that the true definition of unity is the very opposite: that all is spirituality, and moreover, that all is G-dliness.
In keeping with this, on the verse"one nation on earth," Rabbi Shneur Zalman briefly comments: "This means that even in mundane 'earthly' matters the Jewish people will not be separated - G-d forbid - from G-d's true unity and oneness" (Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle IX, p. 114a).
It is worth noting that followers of the philosophy of materialism would rejoice - as if they found a great treasure and as if they found proof to their approach - whenever they would find something relating to the psyche which they felt to be wholly related to physical phenomena, such as electronic responses, e.g., brainwaves, etc.
In truth, not only is there no contradiction between spiritual and physical phenomena, the contrary is true - that this is the logical result of the absolute truth of G-d's unity, that G-d is One and there is nothing besides Him which also causes the unity between spiritual and physical phenomena.
This means, not only is there no G-dliness - Heaven forbid - aside from Him, there is also no true existence other than His - this being one of the fundamental concepts of Toras HaChassidus, as explained in Rabbi Shneur Zalman's Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah....
You do not write about what area of medicine you practice, and I would like to know what it is. In any event, it is my hope that when you heal the physical ailments of your patients, you also take into account aspects of their spiritual healing - particularly for those who do not know that they are ailing spiritually, which makes them in even greater need of healing.
20 Shevat, 5716 (1956)
When someone becomes spiritually healthier he automatically becomes physically healthier as well, for Jews are "the one nation on earth," which is to say that wherever they are, they implement the concept of oneness, and included in that is the conception of the overall unity of matter and spirit, body and soul.
This, too, is one of the explanations of the philosophical system of the Baal Shem Tov, that of serving G-d joyfully together with the body - not by afflicting the body, but by using the body as an active partner in one's Divine service.
We readily observe that when the body is healthy - understandably, in a Jewish manner, by eating kosher foods, etc. - the body does not hinder the study of Torah and performance of mitzvos, should the person truly desire to do so.
According to the well-known saying of our Sages, of blessed memory, regarding achieving peace between body and soul, and within the soul as well: peace between the Divine soul and the animal soul, this peace also leads to peace in one's own immediate and close surroundings, as well as to peace in distant places, and ultimately to world peace.
All the above leads to the true state of peace that will take place with Moshiach's arrival, concerning which time the prophet Isaiah states: "Nation will not lift sword against nation, and they will study warfare no more." ...
From Healthy in Mind, Body and Soul, translated by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg, printed by Sichos in English
Why do people say, "bli ayin hara," or "kenina hora"?
An "ayin hara" means an evil or begrudging eye. It is believed that an envious or begrudging glance is able to cause evil to the person at whom it is directed. According to a statement in the Talmud, 99 out of 100 die of an evil eye. Hence, we use the expression in Hebrew "bli ayin hara," or in Yiddish "kenina hora" - meaning, without a begrudging eye, when a person's health, wealth, intelligence, success, etc., are being admired.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is unique as reflected by the fact that three Torah scrolls are taken out for the Torah reading; we read the weekly Torah portion of Pekudei from one scroll, the Rosh Chodesh reading from another scroll, and the special Parshat Shekalim reading from a third scroll.
The Rebbe spoke about this phenomenon. At that time he explained that this is a very rare phenomenon. There are many occasions when two Torah scrolls are taken out, but taking out three scrolls is extremely uncommon.
The lesson to be learned from taking out a Torah scroll is reflected in the prayers recited at that time which begin, "Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, 'Arise, O G-d, and Your enemies will be dispersed; Your foes will flee before You.' "
This verse is relevant to every Jew, even in the present era when the ark is entombed. Every Jew possesses a spark of Moses within his soul. This spark brings about a increase in the service of holiness and the nullification of undesirable influences. Thus, taking out the Torah scrolls reflects both the services of "turn away from evil" and "do good," the two prongs of our service of G-d, and endows that service with new strength and vigor.
Thus, taking out three Torah scrolls represents a chazaka - a strengthening and reinforcement of the above concepts.
In particular, there are two types of chazakot:
- a chazaka that is necessary to maintain our everyday service of G-d. This is brought about by taking out three Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah.
- a chazaka that is intended to endow the Jewish people with new and additional powers. This comes about only at special times among them our present circumstances.
May the chazaka established by taking out three Torah scrolls lead to our service in the Third Holy Temple, where "we will partake of ...the festive offerings... and give thanks to You with a new song for our Redemption and for the deliverance of our souls."
These are the accounts of the Sanctuary (Mishkan), the Sanctuary of the testimony (Ex. 38:21)
Our Sages said that G-d did not take the Holy Temple from the Jewish people permanently, but is holding it as a "mashkon" (collateral - a play on words) which will one day be returned. Furthermore, the repetition of the word "Sanctuary" in the verse alludes to the two Temples that would be destroyed before Moshiach establishes the third, eternal Holy Temple, speedily in our day.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Mishpatim, 5752)
The Hebrew word for testimony - eydut - alludes to the adiyim, or heavenly crowns, the Jewish people received when the Torah was given. When the Children of Israel sinned by making the Golden Calf, their crowns were taken back, and with them their extra measure of spirituality. When the Tabernacle was erected, G-d forgave them their sin and their crowns were returned to them.
And they beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it into the blue and into the purple (Ex. 39:3)
Rashi explains how this was done: "They used to spin the gold together with the threads...making them intertwined with every kind of material...the threads of all the kinds were six-fold, and the gold was the seventh thread." This teaches that people whom G-d has blessed with gold and riches should not separate themselves from their poorer brethren. Rather, they should act humbly and freely "mix" with the more common threads.
The disciples of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, were often sent by him to distant places in order to inspire Jews in their G-dly service. While on these missions, the Rebbe's emissaries collected funds for scholars in the Holy Land, a charity to which the Rebbe was devoted from his youth. One such emissary was the chasid Reb Zalman Zezmer.
When Reb Zalman came to the Rebbe to receive his blessing for the success of his mission, the Rebbe added the unusual words: "Don't spend the night in a house whose door faces east."
True to the Rebbe's blessing, Reb Zalman was highly successful in his travels, touching the hearts of hundreds of Jews. He also managed to collect a handsome sum of money to be sent to the Holy Land to sustain Torah scholars there.
Reb Zalman was happily on his way home, having fulfilled the command of his Rebbe, when he noticed that the wagon was traveling off the beaten road. The driver too had realized the error, but in the blackness of night he had no idea how to get back to the main road. They continued on their way, allowing the horses to blindly proceed when suddenly in the distance they saw a light. Following the light, they soon arrived at a house. They knocked on the door and were warmly received by the elderly resident.
Reb Zalman and his driver were exhausted by the trip and their frightening experience of being lost in the darkness. Reb Zalman washed his hands in preparation for praying the evening service, and turned to his host to inquire which direction was the eastern wall, the direction of prayer. When the old man pointed to the door, Reb Zalman froze in his place, the words of the Rebbe sounding in his ears, "Don't stay in a house which has the door in the east."
He immediately called the driver and in frantic tones told him, "Prepare to leave at once!" The driver looked at him in astonishment. "What? Leave now? Why we've only just arrived and besides, we have nowhere to go and don't even know where we are!" Still the appearance of Reb Zalman and his tone of urgency left no room for question.
He began to gather their belongings and was headed for the door when he was stopped by the booming voice of their host who screamed at the top of his lungs: "Where do you think you're going? I take guests into my house, but I don't let them go so fast! Put down your belongings, you're not leaving this house!"
With that frightening announcement, the man left the room and bolted the door behind him. The two prisoners just stared at each other, wondering what to do. Rough voices were heard as a group of men entered the adjoining room behind the locked door. "What's that carriage outside?" roared one of the voices. "Look's like you've managed to snare a pretty fancy one this time."
"You've hit it on the head there," snickered the erstwhile host. "Why, they're loaded; I could hear the coins jingling all the way across the house."
"I'm gonna get a look for myself," said one of the band, and with that the door swung open. Greeting the eyes of the prisoners was quite a vision: six gangsters with blood in their eyes. "Ha!" one barked, "I guess these ones won't escape while we eat. It looks like they're here to stay." A variety of grunts and laughs followed as the murderous gang proceeded to crowd around a table.
But Reb Zalman, having been sent to perform a mitzva (commandment) by his Rebbe, was undaunted by their threats. "Listen to me," he cried. "I have been sent by a very holy man, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a saint who knows many secret things, and you will never get away with your evil plans, for his merit protects me. My master warned me not to spend the night in a house whose door faces east. Your fellow thief can attest that as soon as I realized that the door of this house faces to the east I tried to flee, but he prevented me from leaving. And now, I warn you, if you don't allow us to depart in peace, my holy master will avenge our blood and you will live to regret your deed!"
The gang members burst out in raucous guffaws...all except one - the owner of the house whose countenance seemed to change as soon as he heard those words pronounced.
At nightfall, Reb Zalman and his companion were again closed behind the heavily barred door and, imprisoned in the darkness, they recited Psalms with much weeping and pleading for Divine mercy. At the crack of dawn they heard furtive footsteps approaching from the other side of the door. When the door opened they saw the owner of the house standing before them, his fingers to his lips, warning them to be quiet, motioning to them to follow him.
When they stepped into the main room, the man said in a low voice, "Hurry, I will help you escape." He led them to their wagon and as they were readying the horses for the escape he whispered, "I saved you because of your Rebbe. Take these fifty rubles to give to the holy man."
They urged on the horses and sped toward Liadi. When they arrived, the Rebbe said to them: "I didn't sleep the entire night on your behalf." He then took the fifty ruble note and stuck it into a crack in the wall, and there it remained. Years later, an elderly man arrived in Liadi and requested to see the Rebbe. The Rebbe refused to admit the man, but removed the fifty ruble note from the crack in the wall and ordered that it be given to him.
A Jew's service begins with gathering together the different aspects of his own being. Afterwards, he gathers together with the entire Jewish people, and then, gathers together every element of the world and shows how their entire existence is intended to carry out G-d's will. In this manner, every moment of a Jew's life should be one in which he "wakes up from sleep," and begins with thanking G-d for returning his soul. And this will lead to the ultimate process of ingathering, the ingathering of the dispersed Jewish people. G-d will "bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 25 Adar I, 1992)