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If you have a computer, you're familiar with the term. Updates come in all sizes and shapes, for all programs and operating systems. Some updates are enhancements (whatever they mean by that), some add new features, some fix bugs, some make the program compatible with an update someplace else - an update to the operating system or another program.
Some updates stop viruses. Some are so radical it's like getting a whole new program.
Some updates you don't have much choice about. Some you really need to download and install. Some are a matter of preference. But they're always there. Isn't it nice to know that the friendly programmers are always trying to make their programs better, more efficient, more productive, more user-friendly?
Just as our software needs an occasional update, so do our souls. Sometimes we only need a minor upgrade. Sometimes our spiritual "operating system" has gotten too complicated, runs too slow, or has too many bugs in it. When that is the case, we need a major update. Sometimes we're ready to enhance our spiritual performance, add new features, new mitzvot - commandments.
There are times and seasons and events that signal an update is needed: Big ones are life-changing events, of course, like a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or a wedding. At these times the spiritual operating system gets an update - our Jewish involvement and observance increases in quality as well as quantity.
Other update times are also pre-set. Each Jewish holiday bring with it a modification in our understanding, in the efficiency of how we operate spiritually. On Chanuka a "bug" is fixed, on Passover we add a "new feature." Each holiday focuses on a particular aspect or function of the program; the next year, when that holiday arrives, there's an enhancement to that function, a new feature to Shavuot - an insight we've gained, some enhanced appreciation, some deeper involvement.
And of course, there's the regularly scheduled weekly maintenance update - Shabbat.
Other times, we update ourselves by increasing our Jewish knowledge: attending a Torah class, studying on-line, on the phone (jnet.org), or from a book. Or we start giving tzedaka (charity) regularly by putting a few coins in the tzedaka box daily or making sure to support Jewish causes. When asked why, we often don't know where the impetus came from. But of course it's really our internal, spiritual operating system connecting to the "main server" and automatically downloading updates.
Whatever the reason for the spiritual update - fixing a bug, making our "software" more efficient (doing a mitzva with more care, more attention to detail), adding a feature (taking on an extra mitzva), or enhancing functions (increasing our Torah learning, in a class or online), etc. - it's important to regularly update our spiritual software.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, speaks about the Divinely-ordained weekly cycle, the fundamental clock by which Jewish life is lived and celebrated. "Six days shall work be done, and the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest."
Yet this reference to the observance of Shabbat contains an even deeper significance. Our Sages explain that just as the six work days of the week serve as preparation for the seventh day of rest, so too, do the 6,000 years of the world's existence since creation serve as preparation for the Messianic Era, a time that will commence before the seventh millenium. (The final Redemption can come at any time; six thousand years is the maximum foretold by the Torah.)
For almost 6,000 years, the world has been involved in an ongoing process of preparation, getting ready for the culmination of the Divine plan. Over the course of thousands of years, the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot (commandments) have purified and refined the world into a state of being capable of absorbing the great G-dly revelation that will occur with the final Redemption.
This pinnacle of human existence, the purpose for which the world was created, has been termed by our Sages "the day which will be all Sabbath and rest for life everlasting."
The Biblical term, "Shabbat Shabbaton" (a Sabbath of rest), a repetition of the same root word, alludes to the two levels of sanctity that exist on Shabbat. "Shabbat" refers to the actual cessation of labor; "Shabbaton" implies the extra dimension of holiness felt on that day, the inner quietude and sense of rest that reign independent of our actions.
"A day of rest and holiness You have given to Your people," we pray in the Sabbath service. As the prayer implies, our enjoyment and appreciation of Shabbat are dependent upon the energy we expend and the sincerity of our efforts during the six days of the week which precede it. This added measure of holiness on Shabbat is attained in the merit of our labors and the good deeds we accomplish during this time.
This principle holds true on the larger scale as well.
We find ourselves now in the very last seconds of the exile, just moments before the ultimate "Sabbath of rest" is about to begin. For indeed, the 6,000 years of service prior to Moshiach's arrival have not only prepared the world for the first phase of the Messianic Era but have readied the world for the extra dimension of holiness that will reign during the Days of Moshiach. At that time, evil will be totally subjugated to good and the "spirit of uncleanliness" will have entirely disappeared from the face of the earth.
From a discourse of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, "Vayakhel Moshe," 5714
Honoring Your Parents
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
It has been said, "You appreciate your health when you start to lose it." This message came home to me recently in full force. Our family's home is a fourth generation, raised in Brooklyn, New York. As we, the children, and grandchildren, grew up we moved to different states and countries. I have a brother in Connecticut, another in France, and three of us in California. My sisters are living in different areas of New York and one lives in Michigan. What brings the family together are the simchas - joys. At times, unfortunately, it is sadness or sickness.
In Yiddish there is an expression "A mentch tracht, un Got lacht - man thinks and G-d laughs." We have all kinds of plans but G-d's plans are the ones that really come to fruition. Man can plan and plan but it is G-d who has the final word at the end.
This brings to light the latest drama of my growing, but aging family. My father, who is in his mid-eighties, lives in Brooklyn. He decided to spend the winter months in Florida and the warmer months in New York. "I am now a snow bird" he told me. Older New Yorkers usually escape the freezing winters of the east and go for a warm respite in Miami Beach. By doing so they stay healthy and live a longer life. Indeed it's been reported that the elderly now live longer than ever because they move to a warmer climate and stay away from the cold.
One day I received a phone call from one of my sisters: "I am in Miami. The weather is beautiful but Dad is very sick and I am off to the hospital." There he was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and a compromised immune system. He was admitted to the hospital and a crisis began. He wanted to go home and the doctors wanted him in their care. My father said that hospitals are for the dying and the sick people and he would want no part of this! Little did he realize that he was a true candidate for the hospital!
After forcing him to be admitted to the hospital, he slowly but surely began the long journey to recovery. When I received the call in California I knew I was sorely needed. I dropped everything and went to spend a marathon of days in the hospital. Each day was a challenge. Would he get better? How long would it take for him to recover? How about his sodium and his blood count? Plus an array of other medical concerns.
After six horrendous days I realized that he had turned the tide when he said, "The food is lousy, it's time to go home. Shabbat (the Sabbath) is coming and I need to be with my people."
We spoke with the physicians and head staff at the hospital and they agreed that we could see how my father fared at "home" in his rental condo. He wanted to be able to join his friends - the other snow birds from New York.
I took my father home and spent a great weekend with him; no doctors and nurses, just father and son bonding time. I served him breakfast, lunch, and supper. I washed his laundry, gave him his medicine, called his doctors, coordinated his sleeping times and we went for a walk. We even found time to watch a wrestling match. And what a bonding we had. After such a medical storm I was really able to appreciate the calm.
This made me think about the following: Why is it when it comes to sickness we have the time for our parents but when they are healthy we are too busy to see them? Whatever happened to honoring our father and mother when they are well?
Strange, I thought to myself, but the only real time we stop everything for our parents is when there is a crisis. This realization made me decide that I am going to change my lifestyle. I'll pencil in my calendar and schedule a time to spend with my aging father now, when he is well and happy. I will make the time because that is when a father and son can really do things and enjoy each other's company.
I share this lesson with you because we are living in a time when there is a growing senior population and we need to make time in our busy schedules for our parents while we can enjoy eachother's company.
So let's start to care while we are young and healthy, by doing so we will keep the elderly going and happy. My father is getting older, but not old.
Society needs to change its habits. In the workplace there are days allocated for paid sick leave, maternity leave, vacation, and jury duty. I think with all the squabbling taking place between the presidential candidates there should be a platform for paid leave when honoring one's parents! In the Bible (and so far, every U.S. president has been sworn in with his hand on the Bible) it says (Ex. 20:12): "Honor your father and mother and your days will be long upon the land which the Lord G-d has given you."
One of the classes that I give on a weekly basis at Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, California, is to seniors. They tell me, "You are as old as you make yourself." Teaching these seniors, most of them in their 70s and 80s, is one of the things that keeps me going! I would like to encourage everyone of all ages to make an effort to spend time with seniors. And even more importantly, pick up the phone, jump in the car or hop on a plane and visit your elderly relatives. You will be happy you did.
Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.
Keeping In Touch
Keeping In Touch, vol. 3 is sure to provide weekly inspiration. Every section explores a theme with a telling personal encounter with the Lubavitcher Rebbe; a thought on the Torah portion or holiday; and a closing composition to guide the reader from inspiration to action. Published by Sichos in English.
Creation and Redemption
This latest release from the Chasidic Heritage Series, Creation and Redemption is one of the first discourses delivered by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, upon arriving in America. This is an exploration of the mystical meaning of the Hebrew months of Tishrei and Nissan, eloquently translated into English by Rabbi Yosef Marcus, published by Kehot.
18 Shvat, 5716 (1856)
... My father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, related the statement of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, of blessed memory: "See how precious is the body of a Jew - for its sake has G-d poured forth so much Torah and mitzvos (commandments)."
When G-d gives each and every one of us something as precious as the body, we are to make every effort and truly exert ourselves to insure that the body be healthy. In so doing, we make it possible to fulfill G-d's will of performing Torah and mitzvos, which is specifically performed with the body.
This is as Maimonides states in Hilchos Deos, beginning of ch. 4, that "maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of one's Divine service." And then there is the letter of the Maggid of Mezritch (printed in HaTamim) to his son, the holy "Malach," (angel) in which he states: "A small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul."
My intent is not to lecture - rather, it is my hope that the above will hopefully have a positive effect on you, and through you it will also have an effect upon your husband.
Although the Zohar does state that the "strength of the soul leads to the weakening of the body," this is to be understood in the context of the spiritual power and potency of the holy soul weakening the corporeal demands of the body - not, Heaven forbid, weakening the health of the body.
Indeed, we readily observe that when a person is healthy he can accomplish so much more in all areas [than when he is unhealthy,] particularly with regard to matters relating to love of G-d, love of Torah and love of a fellow Jew. ...
Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 341
I received with pleasure and joy your letter.... I was already concerned that I had not heard from you for a while, although I was partly mollified by the letter that I received from your son, which contained regards from you.
I am pleased that you found a residence [in Florida], and I hope that you and your wife will feel good there and be able to use the time to truly strengthen your physical health, which for a Jew also leads to health of the soul.
As the Maggid of Mezritch wrote to his son, Reb Avraham the "Malach" - who very much followed the course of fasting and self-mortification, and in general was detached from this corporeal world and whose father would often try to convince him not to serve G-d in this manner - "A small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul."
We readily observe this with our own eyes: that those individuals who desire to serve G-d - and their bodies do not interfere by being weak and the like - are able to serve Him in a more complete manner.
In addition to the above, it is also explained in many sefarim (holy books) that the body is not a person's possession, but belongs to G-d. Therefore a person must take care of himself and see that his body is in good condition (understandably not at the expense of damaging his soul).
This is also why, according to Jewish law, a person who inflicts injury on himself, although he is not subject to punishment in a human court of law, is guilty according to the laws of Heaven.
In the words of the Alter Rebbe: "A person has no rights at all over his body, neither to smite it, nor to shame it, nor to torment it with any sort of pain, unless he does so as a form of repentance, for this pain [for the sake of repentance] is doing the person a service - to save himself from Purgatory."
I hope that you will soon find a circle of friends there upon whom you will be able to exert an influence, so that they will become not only physically healthy in Florida, but spiritually healthy as well.
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Why is it customary to give charity before praying on weekdays?
To dispel whatever may hamper the acceptability of one's prayers, charity should be given before praying. Thus we find that before praying Rabbi Eliezer would give a pauper a coin, in the spirit of the verse, "With tzedek - righteousness - (like tzedaka - charity) shall I behold Your countenance." For accusatory voices On High adjudge whether a worshipper is indeed worthy of entering the heavenly palace of the King of Kings in prayer. Yet "charity rescues..." and "charity elevates a nation..." Also, by giving a poor man charity before prayer and thereby giving him life, one's prayers come alive.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we study Chapter 2 of Ethics of the Fathers, which contains the following:
"Rabbi Shimon said: Be meticulous in reading the 'Shema' and in prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayer a routine [perfunctory] act, but rather entreaty for mercy and supplication before G-d, as it is stated, 'For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness, and relenting of the evil decree.'"
Our Sages taught that a Jew shouldn't look upon praying as a burden or heavy yoke he can't wait to be relieved of each day. Praying to G-d is one of the foundations of Judaism, as it helps instill an awareness that G-d is in charge of the world, and that His Divine Providence extends to every single detail.
Prayer is a commandment for everyone, great and small. The positive commandment to ask G-d to provide us with our needs applies to all Jews, regardless of how close or estranged we imagine ourselves to be from Him. The King listens to all His subjects equally, and no matter is too unimportant to "bother" Him with.
Another point: Prayer is different from learning Torah in terms of the perception of our relationship. When a Jew studies Torah, he feels like a student before his Master. But when we pray to G-d, we feel like children entreating our Father.
No one said praying is easy; that's why it's called "avoda," which literally means "work." But as Chasidut explains, prayer is "the ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reaches to heaven." (Incidentally, sincerity is the key here, even if a person doesn't understand the meaning of the Hebrew words; the only stipulation is that "they be said imploringly and from the depths of his heart.") For every Jew has the power and potential to climb up the rungs to even the very highest of spiritual levels, thereby connecting himself to his Divine Source.
None of them shall defile himself, among his people (b'amav) (Lev. 21:1)
The Hebrew word "amav" is related to the word "im'um," dimming or growing dark, as in dying embers or coals that have been left to burn out on their own. Serving G-d "dimly," halfheartedly and without fervor, is the cause of all defilement and impurity. The Torah warns us against allowing our G-dly spark to grow dim. Rather, it must be constantly nurtured and rekindled.
(The Rebbe of Alexander)
But the seventh day is the Shabbat of rest, a holy convocation (Lev. 23:3)
According to the Midrash, the Torah was worried about being neglected once the Jews entered the Land of Israel. "Master of the Universe!" it cried. "What is going to happen to me? Everyone will be busy sowing and planting..." G-d, however, assuaged its fears. "I am giving you a special partner," He said, "and that is the Shabbat, when the Jews are free from work. On that day they will gather in the synagogues and study halls to engage in study."
And you shall count unto yourselves from the morrow after the day of rest (Lev. 23:15)
In our times the counting of the omer is a Rabbinic decree, as without a physical Holy Temple in Jerusalem we obviously cannot bring the omer offering. That is why we conclude our counting with the words "May the Merciful One restore the Holy Temple to its place, speedily in our day": When Moshiach comes and the Temple is rebuilt, the omer offering will be reinstated.
And when you reap the harvest of your land... to the poor and to the stranger shall you leave them [the corners of the field] (Lev. 23:22)
"Why is this verse suddenly inserted into a section of the Torah that deals with festivals?" asks the commentator Rashi. After a person has given charity to the poor for Passover and made the announcement, "All who are hungry may come and eat" at the seder table, he may think that he has sufficiently fulfilled the mitzva of charity. The Torah reminds us that charity is a mitzva that applies throughout the year.
In the years before Reb Mordechai of Neshitz became known as a tzadik and leader of many Chasidim, he was the rabbi of a small, poverty-stricken town far off the beaten track.
Although he held a position of authority and honor, his congregants were far too poor to pay him a decent salary, and so, he was as poor as they were. His wages were so meager that he could afford only the barest necessities of life, and to make matters worse, he received the money only sporadically. When times were really bad, he would visit the broken-down shop of the town pawnbroker who would give him a few coppers to tide him over.
Life in the small town was a difficult struggle, but Reb Mordechai's spiritual life was bright. The highlight of his life came when he would make his periodic visits to his rebbe, the tzadik, Reb Michel of Zlotchov.
Lacking the money to travel in comfort, Reb Mordechai would take up his walking stick and make his way to Zlotchov by foot.
With only a few crusts of bread to tide him over, he would sludge through muddy roads and forbidding woods. Only the thought of the spiritual feast or the desperately needed advice of his rebbe made the long trip bearable.
One wintry day, Reb Mordechai sat in his cold cottage, surrounded by his hungry wife and children, and of course, there was not a penny in the house. Their misery was compounded by the dampness of the many puddles which dotted his cottage, small ponds formed by the melting ice which dripped through the holes in the roof. What was there to do, other than to undertake the arduous journey to Reb Michel of Zlotchov.
It was a hungry, worn out Reb Mordechai who arrived one freezing morning in a village where a certain wealthy Chasid lived.
Surely, he would provide a warm repast for the traveler. But, no, when Reb Mordechai knocked on the door and asked for food, the Chasid replied, "Don't you know I'm marrying off my daughter tomorrow?! I don't have time to cater to every wanderer who happens to pass by!" Reb Mordechai was shocked, but he departed without a word and continued on his journey.
When he finally arrived in Zlotchov, he received a warm welcome, a warm meal and an invitation - to join the Rebbe at the wedding of a wealthy Chasid the following day. Reb Mordechai happily agreed to join the celebration. Can you imagine his surprise when they pulled up in front of the same house he had left with a rumbling stomach the day before!
When the master of the house came to greet the Rebbe, he saw that the Rebbe's companion was none other than the "beggar" he had so rudely turned away from his house. The wealthy Chasid was beside himself with remorse and shame, and he fell on the floor, pleading for forgiveness. Reb Mordechai and the Rebbe observed his outburst in silence. When the man finally calmed down Reb Mordechai spoke: "The sin of refusing to provide food for a hungry Jew is so great that it reaches the highest heavens. When the pain of that Jew reaches Heaven, it causes a very severe decree to fall upon the one who caused the suffering." The wealthy man began to plead even more bitterly, until Reb Mordechai said, "I forgive you, and I hope that G-d will do the same."
Then, Reb Michel spoke very solemnly: "We should all beg the Al-mighty to forgive, and if there should be an evil decree, let it all be vented on bricks and stones." The guests glanced at one another nervously. Suddenly screams were heard: "Fire! Help!"
Everyone ran outside to find people running from all sides carrying buckets of water. But it was impossible to douse the flames which had already consumed most of the surrounding buildings, property of the wealthy Chasid, who had suddenly become a poor man. Indeed, no sooner had the Rebbe spoken, than his words had come true. All of the property was lost; all the lives were saved.
The next day, before Reb Michel was to leave, his host came to bid him farewell. "Remember," said the Rebbe, "we must thank G-d for whatever happens to us, for were it not for His great mercies, our sins would consume us. When you failed to provide food to a hungry traveler, it was decreed in Heaven that your entire family die on the wedding day. But instead, through intense prayers, the verdict was changed and only your property was lost."
The Chasid lived to see his fortunes restored, but every day of his life was illuminated by the lesson he had learned. He became known as one of the most charitable men in his city, and his table provided nobly for the many guests from whom his blessings came.
The "Hamotzee" blessing recited before eating bread reads: "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth." Why do we thank G-d for "bringing forth bread from the earth" when in reality it yields wheat, which must then be baked into bread? According to the Talmud, when Moshiach comes the earth will produce ready-made bread. Our Sages instituted the blessing with these particular words in anticipation of the Messianic era.