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With summer almost here, many of us look forward to various activities associated with water. Swimming, jet-skiing, canoeing, and even relaxing on a cruise ship - whether for an afternoon or a fortnight.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that we can learn a lesson from everything we see and hear. From a boat cruise, as well, there is a lesson to be learned.
The natural habitat of man is on terra firma; sailing off to sea is something different, a bit out of the ordinary. Since the sea is not the norm for human life, one must travel on sea by a vessel that offers protection and provides for the person's needs while at sea.
In ancient times and yes, even today, crossing an ocean or travelling long distances on water, can be dangerous. Thus, when we return to solid ground, we are enjoined to thank G-d through the special "HaGomel" blessing. As we read in Psalms (107:23-31):
"Those who go down to the sea in ships.... Let them give thanks to G-d for His kindness, and [proclaim] His wonders to the children of man."
Going down to sea is symbolic of the descent of the soul into the physical world and its journey through life. For life in this world is compared to the stormy sea comprised of much water.
In Song of Songs, it says, "Many waters cannot extinguish the fire of this love, nor rivers wash it away." Chasidic philosophy explains that the "many waters" are the difficulties of earning a livelihood and the tendency to become engrossed in worldly matters. Yet these problems, pressures, stress and difficulties, cannot extinguish the love - the hidden love - that exists in every Jewish soul by its very nature and which radiates from its G-dly soul.
What course should we follow to save ourselves from these tumultuous waters overwhelming us to the point that we feel that we are "drowning"? We should travel on the sea in a sturdy ship, a ship fashioned of Torah study and the performance of mitzvot (commandments). On such ocean liners the soul will chart a safe course through the stormy sea and reach its destination in peace.
This is the lesson to be gleaned from an ocean cruise. Just as we can exist at sea only if we are on a sturdy ship, so too, can we sail or cruise through life, only on a craft comprised of Torah and mitzvot.
An additional point: when one encourages another Jew to get more involved in Jewish living and learning, he is not only giving him/her good advice, he is actually telling him how to stay afloat and alive. If someone is drowning, G-d forbid, pulling him onto your boat is not just doing him a favor it is saving his life.
Cruising on a boat also has the aspect of leisure and pleasure, it is not something which is absolutely necessary. Those who will join the cruise will choose to do so for the sake of having a good time.
The analogue of this facet of the cruise adds another facet to the observance of Torah and mitzvot. For not only do we observe Torah and mitzvot because they are our lifesaver - but we can and should also derive great pleasure in our Torah and mitzvot. And we should remember all of this even once we've docked and returned to dry land!
Adapted from an essay by Sichos in English, based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Imagine that the owner of a wide network of factories would send his representative to a new country to see if he could expand his operations and build a new factory there. The representative goes to the new land, checks out the conditions, and returns to his boss with a full report, suggesting that it is not a good idea to build there, and that the land will not suit the boss's purposes. What does the factory owner do? He punishes him for bringing back a negative report.
When we look at this week's Torah portion, Shelach, it seems as if we have a similar situation. Moses sent spies to the Land of Israel in order to get a report on the conditions there. The spies returned with the gloomy news: "The people dwelling in the land are strong, the cities are very strongly walled and great, and we also saw the children of giants there." The spies were harshly punished by G-d for their message, and the Torah describes them as having "brought an evil report against the land."
Why were they punished at all? Were they not merely fulfilling their mission? Their job was to check out the land, "What it is, and whether the people dwelling in it are strong...the cities, if they are open places or fortified," and this is what they did. Is it their fault that the land was occupied by giants and the cities were reinforced? Should they have given a false report upon their return?
The true sin of the spies was that they digressed from their mission. They were only required to describe the Land of Israel, in order for the Jews to know how best to approach and conquer it in a natural manner. The spies were not satisfied with a mere description; they had to editorialize as well and added their opinion as to the likelihood of it being conquered. When they added their own deductions, this caused the Children of Israel to lose faith in G-d and begin to despair. The sin of the twelve spies lies in their comment, "We will not be able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us."
The spies' transgression was that their faith in G-d's commandment was not great enough. When G-d commands that something be done, a Jew must have faith that it is possible. G-d does not require anything of man which is above his capabilities. Even a mortal, possessing the minimum of understanding and responsibility, will not ask a person to do something which is impossible. Every artisan who fashions a vessel creates it so that it will fulfill its purpose and not break. How much more so is this true about G-d. When the King of Kings commands us to do something, there is no doubt that it is within our grasp, or else it would not have been commanded.
However, we must remember that although man must be sure of his ability to perform mitzvot, he must not rely on miracles to accomplish them. Indeed, mitzvot must be done through natural means, as this is the will of G-d. A Jew must find the best way according to the laws of nature, to succeed in his tasks. That is why Moses sent the spies; to discover the best approach to conquer Israel militarily. The sin of the spies was that they put all their faith in nature itself, and forgot Who created that very nature.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
36 More Children Welcomed
Members of Chabad's Children of Chernobyl office in New York are asked to spell "Chernobyl" dozens of times each day by people scattered throughout America.
In 1986, a nuclear reactor blew up. People died instantly, the government announced that the radioactive debris falling was actually snow, and cancer rates and birth defects skyrocketed; and yet, people are still asking how to spell "Chernobyl."
The impact of the nuclear meltdown caused a global reaction. People in the region suffered physically, mentally, and financially, people outside of the region suffered from nuclear panic. The years passed and, as the children of the Chernobyl region began to mature, the affects of the radiation became increasingly apparent.
By 1990, Chernobyl reached epidemic proportions. The earth, air and water cycled radioactivity through every part of the Chernobyl ecosystem; food, drinking water, and oxygen were and continue to be radioactive vehicles forcing its way into the bodies of innocent children. Immune systems were shattered; premature death became a grim reality. And yet, people are still asking how to spell "Chernobyl."
In that same year, 1990, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stood up for the children who could neither physically nor financially stand for themselves. He called upon a group of his students to establish Chabad's Children of Chernobyl (CCOC).
This group united in one paramount goal: to rescue the children of Chernobyl, bring them to Israel, and to care for them fully once they began their new chapters of life. From a humanitarian perspective, the process is simple. From a legal perspective, it is a constant battle. The bureaucratic red tape in the former Soviet Union is difficult to penetrate; but, the CCOC staff and supporters have worked tirelessly and against huge odds to guarantee the children's safety. CCOC is the only organization in the world to bring children out of the contaminated areas permanently.
Today, the situation in Chernobyl has worsened. The sarcophagus built around the reactor to confine the radioactivity is cracking under pressure; the whole structure can tumble if the cracks continue to grow. If this scenario occurs the result will be more destructive than the original meltdown in 1986. The fractures are hazardous in and of themselves as they have allowed rainwater to seep in, which allows the semi confined contamination to enter the drinking water when the rainwater flows out.
And yet, people are still asking how to spell "Chernobyl." Radiation lurks in the drinking water, the soil, the cattle, the milk, the food and the air; the longer the children remain in this radioactive environment, the longer this cycle is pushed forward.
This past month, Jon Voight traveled halfway around the world to meet Chabad's Children of Chernobyl's 80th Rescue Mission on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Voight, best known for his award-winning roles in Midnight Cowboy and Deliverance, welcomed 36 children from Belarus, Ukraine, and Western Russia, escorting the first young child - a seven-year-old girl - down the steps of the airplane.
"It is truly an amazing experience to see these beautiful children disembark the plane," Voight said. "All of our hard work, our fundraisers, and our efforts pay off when you see the hope restored in a young child's eyes."
The children celebrated their arrival with friends and family members they had not seen in months. A woman from Ukraine was reunited with her daughter who had been rescued on CCOC Rescue Flight # 79. Everybody around the mother and daughter watched their reunion in tears of happiness - they remained in each other's arms for the remainder of the welcoming.
Young boys were lifted into the air and danced around on the shoulders of the teenage boys and young men who came to welcome the flight. Jon was swept up into the celebration as well and the young children laughed in awe as they saw him bouncing around the airport on the shoulders of a young man rescued on a past CCOC flight - a flight that Jon himself helped make possible.
The evening was packed with celebration, high energy, and excitement. Optimism, hope, and opportunity could be felt in the air - but the physical pain in the children could clearly be seen as well. The children have been settled in their new homes in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and have already started their medical treatment and their roads to recovery.
This past month, the CCOC family also extended a hearty "mazel tov" to a CCOC alumna, Rivky Buchman, upon her engagement to Yosef Astrofsky.
Rivky arrived on rescue mission #23 on April 23, 1996 - her 11th birthday. Rivky's father died right before she was born and her mother, after a long illness, literally died in her arms, leaving Rivky all alone in the world. Luckily, her friends had heard about CCOC and arranged to send Rivky to Israel.
With the constant help, care and support of CCOC, Rivky responded to medical treatment for various ailments. After graduating the special CCOC high school, Rivky successfully completed her Sherut Leumi (National Service) in Elad. Today she is a successful preschool teacher.
This is what CCOC is all about: giving a chance for a healthy, happy future to all children.
A Tzaddik and His Students
Many Jews are attracted to spirituality but never look in their own religion to find it. Still more are unaware that chassidic philosophy and its practice are the "soul" of Judaism. The starting point of the chassidic way of life is a chassid's connection to his or her Rebbe. But like many of the more spiritual concepts in Judaism, the role and function of a Rebbe - and the chassidic movement in general - has been largely cloaked in mystery or misinterpreted. In A Tzaddik and His Students: The Rebbe-Chassid Relationship, Rabbi Shloma Majeski takes the reader on a journey into the spiritual world of the Rebbe-chassid relationship, explaining the nature and purpose of a tzaddik/Rebbe, his connection with his chassidim, and the relevance of this phenomenon in the lives of every human being today. Published by S.I.E.
Freely translated and adapted
17 Iyar, 5710 (1950)
It pained me to hear that you have not been feeling well lately, and moreover, that you have not been careful in following the doctor's instructions.
I heard many times from my father-in-law, the Rebbe, the statement of his father, the Rebbe Rashab:
"See how precious the body of a Jew is to G-d - for its sake has G-d poured forth so much Torah and mitzvos (command-ments)." For as is known, Torah and mitzvos were specifically given to souls clothed in physical bodies and not to angels.
Since the body is so precious to G-d, it follows that we are to be scrupulous in guarding the health of our body, which G-d placed in our trust.
Our Sages have informed us (Berachos 60a) that "Permission was granted the healer to heal." Consequently, a doctor acts with the Torah's permission and moreover, in accordance with its command "and he shall heal".
Thus, most assuredly, even if - by following the doctor's orders - one must temporarily forgo the fulfillment of a "good custom" or the observance of a mitzvah in the most scrupulous and beautiful manner, and so on, the Torah will amply compensate him [for following the doctor's orders].
Forgoing for a short while, i.e., until you feel better, a "good custom" or observance of a mitzvah in the most scrupulous and beautiful manner will result in your being able to strengthen your observance of Torah and mitzvos many more times so, for many long and good years.
24 Nissan, 5717 (1957)
I was notified about the status of your health, and I hope that you are experiencing a daily improvement.
To someone like you I certainly don't need to emphasize that our holy Torah, the Torah of Life, provides the physician with permission to heal - from which we understand that we are obligated to fulfill the instructions of the doctor.
Although the thought does creep in at times that one is wasting time with matters of healing and resting and the like; nevertheless, even a small degree of reflection - in light of the above saying of our Sages about a doctor being given permission to heal - leads to the understanding that the healing process is not a waste of time.
On the contrary - the small amount of time (that the person thinks is being) wasted results in a profit of much time in the future, time that can be utilized by the person in the service of G-d "in all his ways" - in keeping with the directive of our Sages, as explained at length in Chassidus - with joy and gladness of heart.
With blessings for a speedy recovery and that you may be able to convey glad tidings regarding all the above.
14 Teves, 5718 (1958)
You write to me about traveling to Tiberius for reasons of health and enumerate the pros and cons:
You will pardon me, but your reasons for not doing so are similar to a merchant who hesitates to open a store since it would entail a monetary investment - renting a place of business, purchasing merchandise, etc.
However, by not investing, the person denies himself the opportunity to recoup his investment one-hundred fold; in this world nothing can bring benefit without first investing spiritual or physical effort or money. Once the investment is made, however, the return on the investment is manifold.
The same is true with regard to your journey: namely that the unpleasantness associated with your trip to the Hot Springs of Tiberius pales in comparison to your ability to benefit so many more times over in terms of improved health for many good and long days and years, benefits that will result from your taking this trip.
If only you would have traveled there last year... but one does not remonstrate about the past.
I mention this only to prove that such a journey is not only permissible and far outweighs any of the negative aspects that you mention, but is also highly desirable - even benefiting in the long run those who might temporarily suffer from your undertaking this journey.
With blessings, and hoping to hear glad tidings from you, and to a healthy winter in all aspects. ...
From Healthy in Mind, Body and Spirit, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
What is the reason for dancing at a wedding?
Part of the mitzva (commandment) of "making the groom and bride happy" is to entertain them with dancing. By dancing around the bride and groom, the community expresses its support for the couple. The Talmud relates many instances when the greatest of our Sages set aside their uninterrupted study of Torah for the sake of entertaining the couple. In accordance with Jewish law, men and women dance separately with a mechitza (divider) separating them.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Shelach, in which we learn about the spies who Moses sent to explore the land of Israel before the Jews would enter it. This was not a commandment from G-d, but a choice left to Moses' discretion. We learn this from the words of the Torah portion, "shelach lecha - send for you," i.e., according to your own discretion.
The Rebbe explains that the spies' mission described in the Torah portion can be compared to the soul's descent into the material world.
The mission of a Jewish soul is to descend into this world enclothed in a physical body in order to make this world a dwelling place for G-d. In order for the soul to fulfill its mission, it must "explore the land," to figure out the nature of the service that must be carried out and which conflicts and difficulties will arise, and what is the best way to transform the land into a dwelling for G-d.
This mission, like the sending of the spies, is left up to man's discretion. Indeed, G-d allows for the possibility of an error in both cases, because in order to make this world into a dwelling place for G-d, a person must act upon his or her own initiative, based on his or her own decision.
The act of the spiritual soul coming down to this physical world and elevating it to a higher spiritual plane by making it a dwelling place for G-d is the perfect synthesis of material and spiritual. We have recently celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, in which we commemorate the giving of the Torah. The act of bringing the very holy Torah into this world made it possible to fuse together the spiritual and the physical. May we imminently experience the ultimate fusion of the two in the Messianic Era.
And you shall ascend the mountain and see the land, what it is (Num. 13: 17-18)
When you will "ascend the mountain" - attain the highest levels of G-dly wisdom, then you will "see the land, what it is" - understand the true nature of physicality and realize that it is without intrinsic worth.
And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad (Num. 13:19)
Moses knew that the land of Israel was "good." What he was asking the Spies here was whether the land would provide enough food to sustain the Jewish people during battle or if they would have to prepare their supplies in advance.
The land is very, very good (Num. 14:7)
Throughout their 40 years in the desert, the Jews led an overwhelmingly spiritual existence, their basic needs being provided in a miraculous manner. However, the word "very" appears twice in this verse to emphasize and reassure them that the observance of practical commandments that they would perform after entering the land of Israel would be far superior, meriting an even higher revelation of G-dliness.
In this wilderness (midbar) shall they be consumed (yitamu) (Num. 14:35)
"Midbar" is related to the Hebrew word for "speech"; "yitamu" is related to the word "tamim" - "perfect and whole." By speaking holy words, by praying and reciting the letters of the Torah, a Jew attains the level of "You shall be whole with the L-rd your G-d," thereby elevating the "sparks of holiness" that have fallen into the realm of evil.
The Jewish Ghetto of Prague was suddenly stricken by a terrible sickness, which spread throughout the homes of the ghetto. The young children lost their appetite, grew pale and weak, and suffered from high fever.
All the medicines known to the doctors in the ghetto did not help. The poor children suffered terribly, and a few of them passed away. Rabbi Loewe, the holy Rabbi of Prague, ordered a two day fast and continuous prayers to plead for help and forgiveness.
"No doubt, we have brought this disaster upon ourselves with our failure to fulfill His Divine commands to the best of our ability. Perhaps, if we pray from the bottom of our hearts, G-d will reveal to us the cause of this trouble, and t he means of curing our sick children. G-d always prepares the cure before He sends the illness."
All the Jewish men and women of Prague fasted and prayed. But nothing happened and no sign from heaven came to indicate that their prayers and fasting had been answered.
It was past midnight, and Rabbi Loewe's mind kept wandering back to the terrible tragedy that had befallen his own community, and for which there seemed no help in sight. It was a long, long time since he had made use of the "Golem" he had created and formed out of clay with the help of the Sacred Name. But now, as he kept pondering the serious situation that had already cost young lives, he finally decided to call on the Golem.
The Golem appeared and obediently awaited his master's command. Rabbi Loewe said to him: "A dreadful disease has struck our children, and no doctor has been able to help us. Go out among the creatures of the earth and ask as to who knows what cure there is."
With a heavy sigh, Rabbi Loewe returned to his prayers. If there was any cure, G-d would certainly reveal it to the Golem, who received his very life and power from the Divine Name. After what seemed like a long time, the obedient Golem reappeared before Rabbi Loewe.
"Have you brought me the cure?" the Rabbi asked anxiously. "I scoured the heavens and earth until I came to the spirit of heat which causes the fever of man to rise. When I asked him why he was creating all this sorrow for the people of our community, he replied; 'I have been ordered to do so by the angel of G-d. It is not up to me to question G-d's providence. But I advise you to check the mezuzot of the houses of the community. For, wherever the name of G-d protects the Jewish house properly, the children are safe.' "
"Why, I should have thought of that myself," Rabbi Loewe reproached himself. The Rabbi sent for all the members of the Rabbinical Court and told them: "Go quickly and see if there is anything wrong with the mezuzot of the stricken houses." They returned with their report: "We have found that the mezuzot of all these houses had been written by Rabbi Moshe Sofer, but strangely enough, there is a faded letter in the Divine Name in each of them!"
"Rabbi Moshe Sofer, of blessed memory, was the holiest man of our entire community. Why should his mezuzot have faded. There could only be one explanation. We must investigate whether there is any blame on the community concerning Reb Moshe, or his family, or his grave. Something must be at fault, or else his mezuzot would not have faded."
Early the next morning the Rabbi himself went to the home of Reb Moshe. It was quite obvious that utter poverty was the lot of its occupants. Everything needed repair. Rabbi Loewe pledged himself on the spot to make up for all this neglect of one of the community's most faithful and holy servants.
He knocked at the door, and a weak voice answered: "Who is there?"
After he had identified himself, Rabbi Loewe entered the dark, cold, bare room. In one corner, on a sack of straw sat the widow; on a sack in the other corner were two of the Sofer's three children. "Aren't you supposed to get a weekly pension from the community?" Rabbi Loewe asked the widow.
"I got the pension the first two months. Ever since then I have not received a penny. We are living from the little my oldest boy earns by collecting rags and selling them to the junk dealer."
Within a short while the family was provided with food, clothing and whatever else they needed. Then Rabbi Loewe called the members of the council together. It was found that the sexton who was supposed to deliver the pension to the widow had kept it for himself, knowing that the woman would not complain.
In the meantime, all the mezuzot were made kosher again, and the mysterious disease, which had ravished the children of the Prague ghetto, stopped as suddenly as it had come. No doctor knew how and why. But Rabbi Loewe knew. He made sure that the injustice to the widow and children was fully made good. He also ordered that all the mezuzot of all Jewish homes be checked regularly, at last once a year.
When the Land of Israel was originally divided amongst the tribes, the Levites - who served in the Holy Temple and were the teachers of Torah - did not receive a portion. This is because the material nature of the world prevents a person from being both totally dedicated to G-d and simultaneously involved with worldly affairs. In the Era of the Redemption, however, when the world will be refined there will be no need for the Levites to set themselves aside from worldly involvement. And hence, they too will receive a portion of the Land of Israel.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 26 Sivan, 5751-1991)