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So it's eleven-thirty at night, you're having a cup of tea before bed, reading an article or maybe the latest issue of L'Chaim. Your spouse is doing the same; your teenager's listening to his iPod, and the little ones are in bed.
Crack. Pop. The lights go out. It's totally dark. A power outage.
Soon everyone's got a candle and is huddled in the living room. You call the energy company - your cell phone still has a charge - and find out they know about the outage and your power will be restored in a maximum of four hours.
You go outside. It's dark, for about a three block radius. The sky is clear - no clouds. What could have caused it?
You shrug, go back inside, and get the family settled. Two hours later, the power comes back on.
We've all had a similar experience, when the electricity goes out. Usually it's restored pretty quickly - unless some major wind, rain or snow storm knocked down power lines. Then the power outage could last a week. Or more.
When the power goes out, we realize a few things: how much we depend on the energy and light from electricity (no internet otherwise!), how sensitive we are to our comforts, how fragile the networks we depend on, and how much we need each other's support. (In the darkness of a power outage, everyone shares candles, flashlights, food and resources.)
There are times when we also experience a spiritual power outage, so to speak. We run out of energy and wander in darkness: we run out of energy for mitzvot (commandments), for Jewish studies classes, for prioritizing Judaism. And we wander in the darkness of doubts, questions, distractions and confusions.
Our Judaism goes dark.
How do we get the "electricity" back on? What are our spiritual "repair trucks," or "back-up generators"?
The answer is to study more, particularly Chasidic philosophy. Online, from a book, or best of all, with someone else - maybe ask your Chabad rabbi or rebbetzin to start a class.
But why Chasidic philosophy? Why does learning Chasidut turn our spiritual electricity back on? After all, there are many parts of Torah - the written text, including the Prophets and Writings, the Talmud, philosophers and legal codifiers. So what about Chasidut re-energizes us, gives us the strength to learn the other areas of Torah, to re-establish our networks, to feel secure in our comfort zone?
Chasidut, particularly Chabad Chasidut, teaches us about G-d, creation, the purpose of life, in such a way that we internalize it. There's a difference between understanding something, and getting it, seeing it, being charged by it.
Put a different way, Chasidut "powers us up" because it lets us see, see what's there - see the underlying spirituality within the world, within ourselves. It also gives us a sense of the essential unity of all Jews, of the soul-level on which we operate, usually so unconsciously.
Our lights, appliances and computers are vessels that can receive, and use, the electricity. But it has to be delivered. Our Torah and mitzvos are the vessels that manifest the spiritual reality within each of us. But the energy to get it done, to make the connection - that's delivered through Chasidut.
The osprey, a large type of hawk, is one of the non-kosher birds listed in this week's Torah portion, Shemini. The osprey, which lives on a diet of fish, is an expert fisherman, swooping down into the depths of the sea to catch its prey.
The Talmud relates that Rabbi Yochanan considered the osprey an outstanding example of Divine Providence. Whenever he saw an osprey feeding he would recite the verse, "Your judgements are the greatest depths." G-d oversees and supervises His world even in the very depths of the sea. Rabbi Yochanan saw that the osprey is only an instrument for G-d's judgement, eating precisely those fish which G-d has decreed should be eaten.
Rabbi Yochanan's statement is similar in content to the Baal Shem Tov's teaching, that everything that happens in the world is due to Divine Providence. G-d not only directs the steps of man, but oversees the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, guiding every tiny detail of His world.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that every single phenomenon that occurs is determined by G-d, even the path of a falling leaf and the course it takes as the wind blows it about.
The example set by the osprey is also, therefore, not accidental, for it teaches us a lesson about how G-d oversees His creation. Although it often seems to us that the world operates only according to natural law, and it is sometimes difficult to detect the hand of G-d "behind the scenes," Chasidic philosophy offers us an unusual insight.
The Hebrew word for "nature" - "teva" - comes from the same root as the word meaning "drowned," or "sunken." Just as sunken treasure, hidden beneath the depths of the sea, continues to exist despite being invisible to the naked eye, so too, does nature obscure the true reality within. The laws of nature conceal the Divine Providence that directs every physical phenomenon, making it appear as if events just happen by themselves.
The osprey teaches us that if we want to uncover the truth which the laws of nature conceal, all we need do is dive beneath the surface to uncover the Divine Providence which is in control.
When we look beyond the obvious and contemplate these things, we come to the realization that there is no such thing as an accident. This fact will be made eminently clear after the coming of Moshiach, when the G-dliness hidden within the physical realm will be revealed and open for all to see.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Family Triumph
by Ghuby Szanto
In Hungary, where I was born, being Jewish was considered to be "shameful." The actual word "zsido" - meaning Jew - had become a swear word. I found out that I had Jewish ancestors accidentally at age six. I was also warned not to mention it ever to anyone because it is shameful.
Prior to World War II the majority of Jews in Hungary were assimilated and followed the so called neologue (local conservative) movement. They used to call themselves the Moses-faith Hungarians and questioned whether they should keep in contact with
Jews from other countries. Misleading publications were printed, such as a booklet "Miriam." The book was subtitled "Jewish Prayerbook" though it contained not one traditional Jewish prayer, not one letter in Hebrew, but rather was a compilation of nice texts and poems in Hungarian.
My great-great grandmother kept no semblance of Jewish traditions. It was only when the Nazi dominance became apparent that she started lighting
Shabbat candles towards the end of her life. Her daughter, my great-grandmother, fell in love with a gentile and married him. Her two Jewish children were raised as Christians. Her daughter became a nun and devoted her entire life to heal and teach those in need. Her son, my grandfather, grew up to be a deeply religious Protestant. He turned his sharp mind into learning a variety of secular subjects as well as music and became a highly knowledgeable, humble and wonderful man who was loved by everyone.
As a young adult, I began searching for my identity. I found myself drawn toward Judaism. The more I studied, the more I used to find myself hovering in space longing for identity, until a little over a year ago when I finally legalized my Jewish status through an Orthodox conversion. The special experience of immersing in a ritual bath, a mikva, to complete the conversion process was breath-taking.
My sister, who was standing next to the mikva said that her breath stopped unexpectedly when my last strand of hair disappeared under the water and the conversion was declared kosher. After coming out of the mikva water I felt as if my entire body was energized. This strong sensation filled my entire being from top to toe and it took long hours for me to get used to the sensation of the new soul.
I visited my father in the summer and he was very excited about hosting me for Shabbat. We went shopping together and he enjoyed assisting in the food preparation as well. Although my father was not obligated to observe Shabbat, he respected my observance by switching off the t.v. before I lit the candles. As we were setting the table in the undisturbed environment, we entered into an uplifted mood. The warmest conversation we had all week was at the Friday night table with a glass of kosher wine. Between the entree and main course I related a few thoughts on the weekly Torah portion. The cholent for the next day simmered throughout the night and when it was time for Shabbat lunch the scent and flavor was unforgettable. These times at the Shabbat meals were the most precious I spent with my father during our entire visit.
My conversion made me evaluate the goals in my life. I decided to take a leave of absence from my promising information technology career and moved continents with a couple of suitcases to study at the Machon Chana Women's Institute in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I am currently studying, constantly learning new things, and hoping to be introduced to my "other half" very soon.
My studies at Machon Chana are unlike anything I have ever before encountered. Dedicated teachers present carefully selected material that makes the study an inspiring experience. Jewish law, Jewish history, Torah, Hebrew skills, and Chasidic philosophy - a wonderful source for character refinement and spiritual nourishment - comprise the colorful studies in a day at Machon Chana.
My great great-grandmother was a victim of the Holocaust and her daughter and her children were victims of the intellectual Holocaust. I have returned to my ancestors' Jewish roots. Hitler has not won. Neither will assimilation. We survived! G-d willing, I will be adding new names to our Jewish family tree.
The Kol Menachem Hagadah
The Kol Menachem Haggadah adds layer upon layer of fresh insight to the age-old celebration of our journey from slavery to freedom. A richly textured commentary which creatively blends traditional, mystical and life-enhancing insights. Each step of the Seder explained in simple language. Insights culled from over 100 classic sources, including Toras Menachem. www.kolmenachem.com
Subtitled "A Guide to Understanding Kabala," Inward Bound answers such basic questions as "What is kabala all about?" and "How can I use kabala to help change my life for the better?" Author Rabbi Nissan Dubov has divided his book into three section. The first section examines the very origins of this esoteric knowledge and guides us towards an understanding of how kabala is intrinsically linked to the future destiny of the Jewish people. The second section of the book provides the reader with an in-depth explanation of fundamental Kabalistic concepts. The third section illustrates how we can apply the principles of kabala to our daily lives, including the practice of Jewish meditation and refining our character. Devora Publishing.
Freely adapted and translated
I received your letter of the 24th of Teves in which you describe your situation - that you saw the doctor's report and that this had a very strong negative effect on you.
You describe what you imagine to be your future, for which reason you recite Tehillim (Psalms) and beseech G-d to be kind and merciful to you, and you ask for my opinion on the matter.
Your recitation of Tehillim and beseeching G-d is surely a good thing, as G-d is the Master of the entire universe and oversees all individuals and each and every detail of their lives.
However, I disagree with that which you write: that you thought about the doctor's report and you envision a dismal future, for the matter of your future is not in your hands at all, but in G-d's hands, and it was not for the purpose of gloomily pondering your future that you were created.
Rabbi ... writes me that you are a Jew who observes Torah and mitzvos (commandments). Surely, then, you believe that G-d is the Master of the universe, governing the world.
We observe that even a human boss, if he is at all competent, will separate the various components of his business so that one part will not impinge on the other and each part will serve the purpose it is meant to serve.
This is only true regarding a human being who is inherently limited in all his affairs and is consequently subject to intermittent erring. Regarding G-d's mastery of affairs, however, everything that G-d brought into existence is meant to fulfill its specific purpose, mission and goal.
When someone's impulse leads him to do something other than his mission, then this contains two faults: a) since it does not comprise the individual's mission, then nothing but damage is being done; b) this takes the person away from fulfilling the mission for which he was indeed chosen.
All the above applies to your situation as well: For any number of reasons, which are surely a result of individual Divine providence, your profession is not medicine. You have, however, been raised a Jew who observes Torah and mitzvos.
We know two matters from the above: a) that your Divine mission in this world does not consist of practicing medicine; and b) that observing Torah and mitzvos is your goal and mission for which reason you were created. This goal and mission includes the mitzvah of "Love your fellow as yourself" and "You shall surely admonish your fellow."
Moreover, in commenting upon the verse, "When you see someone naked, you should clothe him," it is stated in the book of Tanna D'vei Eliyahu, that this also includes the obligation that "When you see someone naked of Torah and mitzvos, see that you clothe him with Torah and mitzvos." This then is your goal and mission in life, the purpose for which you were created.
From all the above it is understand-able that, firstly, it directs you away from fulfilling your mission for which you were selected. Moreover, by interfering in matters of your healing, you can only do - G-d forbid - harm, but surely not any good.
The harm that may be brought about by your interference resides in the fact that your distress stemming from what you surmised about your medical condition can result in imagining things that will not come to pass. By pondering and occupying yourself with what this doctor says and what that professor may come up with, etc., you weaken your mazal and your trust in G-d.
continued in next issue
From Healthy in Mind, Body and Soul, translated by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Why do we say blessings before eating?
When we recite a blessing we are expressing our gratitude to G-d for our sustenance. Saying a blessing transforms a commonplace activity into a holy act. Chasidic teachings explain that all food contains a G-dly spark of holiness. When we make a blessing before eating, we elevate the physical substance of the food into holiness and reunite the holy spark with its source.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
When it comes to doing mitzvot, our natural inclination is to try to comprehend as much as we can about a particular precept. However, some mitzvot are accessible to the human mind, while others are not. Some of the Torah's commandments are completely beyond our understanding. These mitzvot are called chukim, the primary example of which is the mitzva of the red heifer, about which we read this week in the special Torah reading known as "parshat para." Even King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared that this mitzva was beyond his ability to grasp.
Chasidic philosophy, rather than being "troubled" by these mitzvot, derives a very important lesson from them. We must strive, Chasidut teaches, to perform even the most seemingly rational mitzvot with the same sense of nullification before G-d and "acceptance of the yoke of heaven" as the ones that transcend the human intellect. We don't refrain from stealing or honor our parents because it makes sense to us; the only reason we do these mitzvot is because G-d has commanded us to observe them.
In truth, the entire Torah is "super-rational." G-d did us a favor and made it easier for us to perform certain mitzvot by "enclothing" them in logic, but a Jew's religious observance and indeed, his intrinsic connection to G-d relate to a much higher level. The bottom line is that we keep the Torah's commandments only to fulfill G-d's will.
The human mind is a wondrous creation. G-d wants us to use our minds to the best of our ability, as the mitzva to study Torah clearly demonstrates. But at the same time the mind is flexible, and the process of reasoning can sometimes lead to false conclusions.
Chasidut also explains that because logic itself is a creation, it is therefore limited. Only G-d is unlimited and eternal.
The mitzva of the red heifer thus raises our awareness of the fundamental "super-rational" basis of all of Judaism.
He brought close the meal-offering, and he filled his hand of it, and burnt it upon the altar, beside (milvad) the burnt-sacrifice of the morning (Lev. 9:17)
The Hebrew word "milvad" is an acronym for "melaveh le'ani be'shat dochko - he who lends to a poor person in his hour of need." Lending money to the poor is so noble a deed it is considered as if one brought an offering before G-d.
Every earthen vessel... whatever is in it shall be unclean (Lev. 11:33)
An earthen vessel becomes unclean by virtue of its contents, not because of anything its exterior may come into contact with. For pottery itself has no intrinsic value, serving only as a container for whatever it holds. A metallic vessel, how ever, becomes unclean from the outside, as the metal itself is valuable. A human being is likened to an earthen vessel; he too is composed of "dust of the earth." He himself has no intrinsic worth; his value comes from that which is within.
(The Kotzker Rebbe)
You shall not make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be thereby defiled... you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy (Lev. 11:43-44)
Our Sages said: He who defiles himself a little, is defiled a lot from Above; he who defiles himself in this world is defiled in the World to Come. Similarly, one who sanctifies himself a little is assisted and sanctified from Above; he who sanctifies himself in this world will be sanctified in the World to Come.
The root of the Hebrew word "olah" means "height" or "elevation," teaching us that if a person truly desires to lift himself up and draw near to G-d, he must sacrifice "his own voluntary will," as our Sages said, "Nullify your will before His."
(The Magid of Mezeritch)
Once during his travels, Rabbi Aaron of Karlin arrived at the town of Zarowitz close to the Shabbat. He saw a small cottage situated on the edge of the town and he knocked on the door hoping to find some hospitality there. A small woman opened the door and listened to his request to remain there for the Shabbat. "You are welcome to stay," she replied simply, and she ushered him into the house.
As soon as he set his foot inside the door, Rabbi Aaron felt himself enveloped by an overwhelming sense of holiness, and he knew that there must be something unique about the occupants of this house. Reb Aaron prepared himself for the Shabbat and was about to go out the door to the synagogue when he met Reb Yitzchak, the owner of the house, just returning from his workday. The man was dressed in simple peasant garb, and there was nothing to distinguish him from any other worker. He greeted his guest warmly, but his features disguised any emotion.
Rabbi Aaron was accustomed to celebrate the Shabbat with enthusiastic singing and prayers, and he followed his usual rituals. His host, however, rushed quickly through the prayers, hurriedly said kiddush over the wine and then sat down to eat his simple meal. But even in this plain food, Rabbi Aaron could detect an undeniable holiness, although he couldn't figure out what it stemmed from. He studied the man and woman, but there was nothing special about anything they said or did that would set them apart from any of ten thousand other poor Jews.
When the Shabbat ended Rabbi Aaron thanked his host and hostess and continued on his journey, the mystery unsolved.
The following week, a woman turned up in the Study Hall of the nearby city of Premishlan and spoke to the members of the local burial society requesting that they come with her. "Please come with me to Zarowitz now, for my husband, Reb Yitzchak, is dying and he has asked that you be with him in his last moments."
The men immediately followed her to her home, but when they entered the house, her husband wasn't even there. "What is this, some kind of joke? Have you brought us all this way for nothing?"
"No, of course not, gentlemen," she replied. "My husband is on his way and will be here shortly." And sure enough, her husband walked through the door, holding a bunch of straw. This, he spread on the floor and then simply lay down upon it. Then he began speaking to the burial society officials: "My friends, it is now time for me to leave this world. I have lived as a nistor (a hidden tzadik - righteous person) all my life, but the time has come for me to reveal myself. The moment that I die, go with all speed to Premishlan and bring back as many scribes as you can gather. Have them bring pens and paper, for here they will copy over my secret writings. This must be done while I am still lying here on the ground, before I am buried. Watch me, and when you see a change in my face, all writing must cease at once."
Reb Yitzchak finished speaking, closed his eyes, and for a moment his face burned like a fire. Then, his lips which had been moving in silent prayer became still, and he was gone.
Scores of scribes were hurriedly brought to the cottage where the tzadik lay. Each one was given a leaf of paper to copy and they raced against time to complete their holy task. The officials' eyes were fixed on the face of the tzadik, looking for any change. Suddenly, the face lost all of its color and the box which contained his writings mysteriously closed by itself. The scratching of pens stopped abruptly, and preparations were quickly begun to ready Reb Yitzchak for burial.
When Rabbi Aaron heard of the death of the tzadik and the circumstances which surrounded it, his heart was filled with bitter regret. What wondrous Torah secrets he might have learned from the deceased! He went to pay his respects to the widow and perhaps to glean some bit of knowledge about the tzadik's life from her.
"Well, there's nothing I can really tell you," she said. "I'm sorry, but my husband wouldn't permit it." Rabbi Aaron was bitterly disappointed. He wished her comfort, among all the mourners of Zion, and turned to leave. But just as he reached the door, the widow called out to him, "Wait, there's one small thing I can show you. Do you see those candlesticks there on the shelf? Well, from the day I married until the day my husband died, those candlesticks burned constantly all by themselves."
Rabbi Aaron left the cottage deep in reflection. The wondrous accomplishments of the hidden tzadik would remain one of G-d's many secrets, perhaps to be divulged only by Moshiach, himself.
Queen Cleopatra said to R. Meir: "I know that the dead will live again, for it is written, 'And they shall blossom out of the city like grass from the earth'; but when they arise, will they arise naked or clothed?" He replied, "You may deduce the answer by observing a wheat grain. If a grain of wheat, which is buried naked, sprouts forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous, who are buried in their garments."
(Talmud Sanhedrin 90b)