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Most of us, at some point in our lives, have had obnoxious neighbors. The obnoxiousness can take many forms. Maybe you go to bed at a reasonable hour but your neighbor insists on playing music into the morning hours. Loud. You like classical, or even "oldies but goodies," but your neighbor insists on playing very bad country. Loud. Or worse, he plays it himself, in what seems like an echo chamber aimed at your kitchen. Loud.
Maybe the obnoxious neighbor takes your parking place, or his visitors block your driveway.
Maybe your neighbor walks her dog on your property - or rather, lets her dog run all over your yard, doing whatever it pleases.
There are many ways a neighbor can be a nuisance. Some actions are annoying, create friction, and just get us angry. Yet they may be legally, ethically and in the scheme of things, just petty annoyances, but not dangerous, life-threatening, or illegal.
So what if the neighbor is just obnoxious, a nuisance, irritating, inconsiderate, but not more than that? How do you deal with it?
(If you politely ask the neighbor to alter her behavior, if you explain to him why the music bothers you or why you need the parking space, and the neighbor apologizes and accommodates, you didn't have an obnoxious neighbor. You had - past tense - an insensitive or oblivious one.)
You have three choices: prevent, counterattack, or ignore.
In every case, you'll find the best way to deal with an obnoxious neighbor is ignore him.
This parallels what Chasidic thought teaches us about the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Although these teachings focus on an obnoxiousness that disturbs our prayer, the advice applies to all our spiritual endeavors. In fact, this advice works well any time we are trying to focus (and accomplish):
"Even if licentious imaginings or other extraneous thoughts occur to him during his service of G-d - in Torah or in prayer with concentration - he should pay them no attention, but avert his mind from them immediately. ... for example, a person who is praying with devotion while facing him stands a wicked heathen who chats and speaks to him in order to confuse him. Surely the best advice in this case would be to answer the wicked heathen neither good nor evil, but rather to act as though he were deaf, without hearing, and to comply with the verse (Proverbs 26:4), 'Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you too become like him.' He should answer nothing at all, nor should he engage in argument against the foreign thought, for he who wrestles with a filthy person is bound to become soiled himself." (From Tanya by Rabbi Shneur Zalman)
So whether the "obnoxious neighbor" is the person living next door, or our own distracting or "foreign thoughts," we have to recognize that both divert us from our goal, drain our energy and keep us from being productive and recognizing the positive in our life.
The obnoxious neighbor and the unhealthy thought should be ignored, and we should concentrate more on what occurs inside our homes - the physical home outside our heads and the spiritual home inside ourselves.
Bechukotai, this week's Torah portion, contains the curses and punishments to be meted out upon the Jewish people if they do not obey G-d. Even a casual reading of these misfortunes in the Torah makes our hair stand on end. Chasidic philosophy, however, teaches that by delving more deeply into the meaning of these curses we can understand that they are actually blessings.
Furthermore, these "curses" are not only blessings, but blessings of such a high order that they can only manifest themselves in their seemingly opposite form!
A perfect illustration of this concept is found in the Talmud. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai once sent his son to two Sages for a blessing. When his son returned he complained that the Sages had cursed him. "What did they say?" asked Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. "You shall sow, but not reap," answered the son. The father patiently explained that the rabbis had meant that he should grow to be the father of many children who would be healthy and strong and not die during their father's lifetime. Likewise, every example the son gave of the rabbis' "curses" were similarly interpreted to contain great blessings.
But why did the rabbis go through the trouble of disguising their good intentions in such a convoluted manner? Chasidut explains that ultimate good is sometimes clothed in an outer garment of its exact opposite, precisely because it is too lofty to come into this world in any other form.
If, then, the rabbis' blessings were so lofty that they had to be "disguised" as curses, how did Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai recognize their true content?
Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, explains that everything we perceive as evil in this world is, in reality, so good that we cannot absorb it in its true form (much in the way that an intense light hurts the eyes if one looks directly at its source). This good therefore takes the form of human suffering, just as we avert our eyes from a brightness which is too intense.
This, however, is only true at the present time. When Moshiach comes, the concealed good hidden within our afflictions will be revealed for what it is - utter and absolute blessing.
A Jew must, therefore, always accept whatever is decreed from Above, for when Moshiach comes we will see that the suffering of the exile was in truth a good of such magnitude that it could only be bestowed in such a way.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai possessed a soul capable of discerning this truth even before the coming of Moshiach. Likewise, Chasidut affords us a "taste" of the Messianic Era, enabling us to understand these inner truths which will soon become apparent, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Hidden Spark in Every Jew
by Rabbi Avraham E. Plotkin
On my recent trip to Ukraine, where my family went to celebrate my father's 80th birthday, I met Sasha, a fellow emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a student of my father. Sasha's job is to visit Jews in the most remote corners of Ukraine and reconnect them to their roots. He related to me the following story:
"I recently received a strange phone call from a mining company that was digging near Anipoli, a small town in western Ukraine. They claimed to have discovered what appeared to be a mass Jewish grave from the Holocaust. At once, I dropped everything I was doing and contacted the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) in Jerusalem, who immediately dispatched a delegation of rabbis to confirm this and help organize a proper burial and monument for these martyrs. A few weeks later, we decided to follow up with a Shabbaton for the relatives, to honour the memory of the martyrs. I brought along with me a group of young yeshiva boys from Kiev, plenty of kosher food and a portable ark with a Torah. It turned out to be a very moving Shabbat indeed, even beyond our wildest dreams."
Sasha explained: "Among the many people who attended this Shabbaton was an elderly gentleman who refused to participate in any of the religious aspects of our program. At the Shabbat afternoon services, I saw him sitting alone with his family, on the other side of the room, without a kippah. I called him up for an aliyah to the Torah, and, as expected, he refused.
"I really don't know what possessed me, but I literally took the man by his the arm and escorted him up to the bimah. I then asked him for his Hebrew name. He said that he couldn't remember, but if it helped, his Ukrainian name was Vasilly. I called him up by that name. He then said the appropriate blessings with some help from me. Just as I started to make the Mi Sheberach prayer for him, I noticed that the man was crying uncontrollably. I asked him what was wrong and he responded in a choked voice that after so many years he suddenly remembered his Hebrew name. It was Azriel, the name his grandfather, the rabbi of the town, gave him at his bris.
" 'You know" he said, 'my Zaide was the first one to be shot by those murderous Nazis. I remember it like today. They gathered our whole town into the square. I was then only 12 years old, just before my bar mitzvah. I was very lucky. I had just drunk a bottle of water and was granted permission to relieve myself behind some trees. From behind those trees, I watched how they shot everyone. No one was spared. My Zaide was first, because he was the rabbi. The rest of my family followed. After they finished, I was left in this world all alone, wandering through the forests...'
"'After the war I returned to my hometown but unfortunately, with no Jewish community left, I gave up my Jewish heritage, married out of the faith and raised a non-Jewish family. When I heard about the discovery of the grave, which more than likely has my family buried in it, an incredible feeling of longing for my family and my past engulfed me. I needed to make that connection once again. I even agreed to attend your program with my family.
"'A whole Shabbos I was struggling with my Jewish past and my identity. Who am I? Am I the Jew of my past or the Ukrainian of the present? Then when you called me up to the Torah and asked me for my Jewish name, it all came back to me. The floodgates of my past were opened. My Zaide, my Hebrew name Azriel, and the bar mitzvah that I prepared for but never happened, all flashed in front of my face. I knew that I belonged to my people.'"
Sasha concluded: "I then told 'Azriel' that he should treat this aliyah as his bar mitzvah. 'Surely, your zaide is very proud of you today,' I told him. He hugged me as tears were rolling down his face. I think they were tears of immense joy.
"You see," Sasha said, "one should never underestimate the soul of a fellow Jew, even one that has drifted away for many years. We need just to provide the match. The spark is already there!"
"By the way," I asked Sasha as he finished his amazing story. "When did this story happen?"
"Three weeks ago."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, of course. Why do you ask?"
Now it was my turn to cry: "My first grandson was born exactly three weeks ago and we named him Binyomin Azriel!"
Rabbi Avraham E. Plotkin is spiritual leader of Chabad Lubavitch of Markham. Reprinted from the Canadian Jewish News
Healthy in Mind, Body and Spirit
This third volume of teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe relating to health focuses on mental health. Among the topics are conquering anxiety, healing through meditation and more. In Healthy in Mind, Body and Spirit you will benefit from the wealth of the Rebbes wisdom on this ever important topic. Compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English.
Prior to delivering the discourse Lecha Dodi at the wedding of his daughter, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn of related that at a wedding, the souls of the bride's and groom's ancestors descend from their heavenly abodes and join in the celebration. He then added that the discourse contains teachings of their ancestors, each of the previous Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes. By repeating their teachings, the Rebbe explained, he was in effect extending an "invitation" for them to participate at the wedding. In 1953, his son-in-law and successor, delivered an expository discourse on his father-in-law's discourse beginning with the same verse, "Lecha Dodi." Twenty five years later, in honor of his fiftieth wedding anniversary, he edited and published this discourse. Majestic Bride contains these two discourses. Eloquently translated into English by Rabbi Yosef Marcus, published by Kehot.
Pesach Sheni, 5710 (1950)
The Zohar [authored by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai] records that on the day of his passing, Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai opened his discourse with the verse (from Song of Songs), "I am my Beloved's, and His desire is towards me," and said: "Throughout the days that I have been bound in this world, I have been united in a perfect bond with the Holy One, blessed be He; and now, by virtue of this, 'His desire is towards me.' "
Rabbi Shimon opened the appropriate conduit that brought down Divine blessings and enlightenment into this world; this enabled others following after him to likewise attain them. Thus it was that in the generation of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, even little children uncovered the mysteries of the Torah, because he had opened the conduit which enabled the innermost dimension of the Torah to become accessible.
Though it is written: "Who is the man whose heart would dare to approach" the level of R. Shimon bar Yochai, nevertheless:
"G-d bared His holy arm": Through our master, the Baal Shem Tov, and his holy disciples, viz., our saintly forebears, the Rebbes of their respective generations, up to and including my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, G-d illumined for us the teachings of Chassidus..., which unlock the gates of the heavenly palaces of Wisdom and Knowledge.... These teachings light up a path by which every single individual, according to his own capacity, is able to approach the realm of holiness, and to serve G-d with his mind and with his heart.
This day is therefore particularly suited for fortifying and invigorating one's efforts in the study of the inner teachings of the Torah and in the service which one undertakes in this spirit. For, as declared by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, these conduits were thrown open by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai - until the coming of the righteous Redeemer, speedily, in our own days, Amen.
Pesach Sheni, 5710 (1950)
The concept of Lag B'Omer is explained in the teachings of Chassidus.
...The manner in which the Jewish people will leave the exile and enter the era of Moshiach was already revealed by our Sages: "In the Future, Israel will taste of the Tree of Life - this book of the Zohar - through which they will leave their exile with mercy." And Moshiach told the Baal Shem Tov that he will come when the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings spread outward.
My revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, explained Moshiach's response at length, saying:
The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov are the vessel for the light of the revelation of Moshiach. The teachings of our Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, and the pure task of refining and cultivating our emotional qualities, will ultimately spread to people on the periphery and all will realize the truth. The self-sacrifice from their parents and grandparents will awaken even those who are found on the peripheries.
We must all clearly know that each and every activity and each and every effort made to spread the wellsprings of Chassidus outward illuminates the darkness of the exile and hastens the coming and revelation of Moshiach. There are no words to describe how difficult it is to remain even one extra moment in exile and how precious one extra moment of the revelation of Moshiach is.
With greetings and blessings for all forms of good,
From I Will Write it in Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos in English
What are some customs of Lag B'Omer?
Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot and a day-long break in this semi-mourning period. Lag B'Omer is traditionally celebrated with outings to fields, playing with bows and arrows, and bonfires. On Lag B'Omer, which is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), hundreds of thousands visit the Israeli town of Meron where Rabbi Shimon and his son are buried. Boys who turn three between Passover and Lag B'Omer have their first haircut on this day.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Lag B'Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer), which takes place this year on Friday, May 23, is a day of rejoicing and festivity. It is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, who proclaimed the day of his passing as a day of celebration.
The celebration of Lag B'Omer has an effect on the entire world, as Rabbi Shimon stated: "I can free the entire world from judgment..." He was able to do this because, as Chasidut teaches, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was one of those unique individuals who was actually above the exile, who was not touched by it; G-dliness was not hidden from him, but rather, was fully revealed.
Thus, Rabbi Shimon was able to see the G-dliness and intrinsic worth of every Jew and for that matter every created thing, and was therefore able to find merit for its existence.
This is part of the task of each and every one of us in these last moments of exile and the first stage in the G-dly revelation necessary to completely transform exile into Redemption.
The first stage is to reveal within the world that G-d is its Master. Since the world itself conceals the G-dliness within it (the word "olam" - world - relates to "he'elam," concealment), a Jew must serve G-d in a way that reveals that everything within the world has G-dliness within it.
We must use everything in our world for its ultimate G-dly purpose, whether that be receiving Torah thoughts by email or enhancing our Jewish education via the web, or jogging with a CD player while listening to Jewish content.
The unique quality of our generation is that we have not only been given the wherewithal to make giant leaps forward in the area of technology, but that almost concurrently, we have devised Jewish applications for those technological breakthroughs.
May we begin revealing the G-dliness inherent in our lives, thus preparing ourselves for and hastening the total revelation of G-dliness with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
If you walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3)
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must never become settled in his habits and fixed in his ways, for G-d's laws are meant to be "walked in." The service of G-d should never be static, but should lead us to higher and higher levels of sanctity.
(Keter Shem Tov)
How do we walk in G-d's statutes? asks Rashi. By studying His Torah, he concludes. Rabbi David of Kotsk once commented on the verse, "You should believe when one tells you, 'I have toiled and I have succeeded.'" He explained: Something a person achieves by dint of his own labor will endure, but something acquired too easily will not last. Just as effortlessly as it was won will it disappear. That is why our Sages urge us to toil night and day in Torah study - so our knowledge will be retained.
A yeshiva student once came to the saintly Chafetz Chaim and poured out his heart. "Year after year I sit and learn, but I just don't get anywhere in my studies! After all this time I have yet to understand even one page of the Talmud properly!" The Chafetz Chaim replied: "G-d did not command us to be geniuses. He only commanded us to toil in the study of His holy Torah, whether or not we ever become great scholars..."
I will give peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to make you afraid (Lev. 26:6)
Our Sages said that King David, who spent his life waging many wars, never enjoyed even one night during which his sleep was not robbed by bad dreams or nightmares. G-d, however, promises the Jewish people that one day their sleep will be tranquil and undisturbed.
The walk was the highlight of the children's day. Each morning they woke up and eagerly waited for their beloved teacher to pass by, pick them up and escort them to school. The usual routine was the familiar knock at the door and a kiss on the cheek from their mother, and they were on their way.
It was all to the credit of this new assistant teacher, said the townspeople amongst themselves. Since he had come, the children loved going to yeshiva. They were so attached to Reb Yisrael (later to be renown as the Baal Shem Tov), and he, in his unique manner, succeeded in instilling within them fine character traits and fear of Heaven.
He related to the children as a father. If a child was sick, Reb Yisrael went to his home immediately and fed him. At the same time, he bolstered the child's faith and trust in the Healer of the sick, our Father in Heaven. No wonder the parents relied on him implicitly and entrusted their children into his hands.
The nearby forest was one of Reb Yisrael's favorite places. Every so often he would take the children there, and, surrounded by the wonders of nature, he would explain to them the greatness of the Creator. He told them of Jews who loved the mitzvot (commandments), of tzadikim (righteous people) who devoted their lives to G-d and to their fellow Jews, and implanted a deep love for G-d and His Torah within their hearts.
Reb Yisrael was a hidden tzadik. But one day, Reb Yisrael, who later came to be known as the Baal Shem Tov, revealed a little of his greatness. This is what happened:
Getzel the Milkman related the horrifying news about a band of Cossacks who were approaching the area and were planning to attack their town. The Jews quickly stockpiled food and began preparing their hiding places, relying on cellars and attics as temporary shelters. As far as the loss of property, they had already made peace with that misfortune. The main thing now was their lives, for they knew that an encounter with a Cossack would be fatal, G-d forbid. Reports they had heard from the survivors of nearby towns that had already been visited by the Cossacks was terrifying.
Jews hid themselves and fearfully waited the arrival of the Cossacks. A group of Jews was in charge of watching over the food supply and dealing with any problem that might arise.
Reb Yisrael sat in the study hall consumed with worry. It wasn't that he was afraid, for his father had told him to fear nothing but G-d Himself. It was simply that his compassionate heart was broken with worry over the townspeople, especially for the innocent children, his students, who were hiding in fear, moaning in sorrow. They were so young, yet they were destined to suffer the lot of their fathers and grandfathers throughout the generations. Reb Yisrael wailed over the exile and cried out to G-d to annul the decree threatening the town.
One day passed and then another. For an entire week, no one heard the sound of children singing in the morning. The town was deserted, with no signs of life. Who even remembered that tomorrow would be Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's day of celebration? This was the day that children traditionally went out to the fields and forests to play with bows and arrows. Only one person remembered the date, and that was Reb Yisrael. He remembered and resolved that this year would be no different. But what would the children's mothers say?
Night fell and word got around that the Cossacks were camping at the edge of the forest. Reb Yisrael didn't sleep that night. He prayed that the holiness of the day and the merit of the tzadik would stand by the townspeople and save them.
Day broke and Reb Yisrael went to carry out his plan. Laden with bows and arrows, he visited the various hiding places, and invited his charges out to the forest to play. The mothers couldn't bear the thought of parting with their little ones for even a moment, and to the forest of all places!
The children begged their mothers to allow them to accompany him. Reb Yisrael's holy, shining face encouraged the mother's to accede to their children's wishes.
The deserted streets were now witness to a most peculiar procession. With Reb Yisrael in the lead, the children burst into song. They completely forgot the reason they had been hiding in the first place. The children went out to the field and celebrated Lag B'Omer!
The Cossacks could hear the sounds of rejoicing. Who dared to irritate them this early in the morning? They guided their horses in the direction of the noise, resolving to wipe out those insolent Jews. The hoof beats shook the town, the Cossacks approached closer and closer. Then, suddenly something amazing happened. As soon as the Cossacks saw the glowing face of the children's leader, fear filled their hearts.
They simply turned their horses around and left, never to return.
The merit of the two tzadikim had brought about this great miracle!
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine, adapted from Kol Sippurei HaBaal Shem Tov by Menachem Hayitzchaki
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when the Messiah arrives, he will explain the entire Torah from the perspective of each and every letter, starting from the first letter of the Torah to the last. Then he will join all the letters together into one long Name of G-d and explain the entire Torah from the total perspective. Meaning to say, first he will explain the Torah according to the unique view of every individual, so that each one will hear an explanation of Torah that rings harmoniously with the root of his soul. Then he will join all the letters together, and reveal the unity of the entire Jewish People through the Torah.
(Eliezer Shore-Bas Ayin)