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Ever have an itch? Of course. And what's the best way to relieve it? Well, if not the bet way, what's our automatic reaction? Scratch! And isn't that what the doctor - not to mention your mother, who knows best - tells you not to do?
But it itches! What am I supposed to do - ignore it?
Well, yeah - if you can. And if not...
Wait, first let's find out exactly what is an itch, why it makes us scratch, why we shouldn't, and what we should do if we can't help ourselves.
An itch is an irritation of the skin. Now, many things can cause itches, and if the itch is widespread, persistent or has other symptoms (major skin problems), obviously one needs to see a dermatologist.
But the most common cause of itching is not physiological, but psychological. When under stress, we itch. Anxiety makes us itch. (And if there is a physiological source, stress can aggravate the itching sensation.)
Scratching might relieve itching, temporarily, because it activates nerves that stimulate pleasure systems in the brain.
This is why scratching doesn't solve the problem: it masks the irritation, but doesn't get rid of it.
The best way to deal with a stress-induced itch is to ignore it. But it was the weakening of mental resolve - the anxiety - that caused the itch, so it's hard to will away an itch.
Other than will power, the best way to stop an itch is cold - cold water or an anti-itch cream that does the same thing, numbs the nerve endings and interrupts the cycle of itch-scratch, or false pain- false pleasure.
We can see in this process parallels to our spiritual life. When we are under "spiritual stress," at moments when we are most searching for G-dliness, ironically then we can be most distracted. Hypersensitive, we can get diverted from our true goal. The diversion is not a direct threat to our spiritual life, or life as a Jew, but it irritates us nevertheless.
For instance, when we realize, from whatever cause, that something's "missing in our lives," we have an "itch" to learn or do something spiritual. At such times, we may "scratch" that itch with something pleasurable, but not necessarily Jewish. Even things that appear good - actions, books, retreats - may just aggravate the condition.
The way to relieve a spiritual irritation is to "cool it" - that is, cool the passions and desires that have been inflamed by the allergens, stresses and "insect bites" of life in the physical world. And the only way to "cool it," to remove the cause of the itch, is to do that which is authentically and verifiably Jewish - studying Torah, as transmitted through the generations, and fulfilling the commandments, as brought down in the Code of Jewish Law.
There are 613 commandments in the Torah, all of which spell relief for an itch of the soul. And there are hundreds of Torah classes, tens of thousands of Torah books, audio lectures and websites that will not only sooth the itch, but remove it permanently.
At the end of the Torah portion of Va'etchanan it states, "Which I command you this day, to do them," upon which Rashi comments, "And tomorrow, in the World to Come, to receive their reward."
A Jew is rewarded for observing G-d's commandments. However, most mitzvot (commandments) are rewarded not in this world, but in the World to Come. And the reason is simple:
As Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism explained, the reward for doing mitzvot is so great that this limited, physical world cannot contain it; we must therefore wait until the less restrictive World to Come to receive our reward. The majority of the Torah's commandments fall into this category.
Nonetheless, there are certain mitzvot for which we are rewarded in this world as well. These are the good deeds we do to benefit others. Not only are they "good for heaven," but "good for the creations." Such mitzvot elicit a response from G-d that is measure for measure: Because we have helped our fellow Jew in this world, it is only fitting that our reward be in this world too.
The following illustrates the concept of delayed reward:
There was once a king who ruled over the entire world. One day he left his palace and met a Jewish boy, Yisrael.
"Yisrael," the king said, "Find a beautiful diamond for my royal crown." At once Yisrael embarked on a search. When he found a diamond he thought was suitable he brought it to the palace, where the royal jewelers cut and polished the stone and set it in the king's crown. Everyone was stunned by the stone's brilliance. The king promised Yisrael a reward for his deed. Although now he was only a child, when he grew up the king would appoint him as his highest ranking minister.
The next day Yisrael sat down to eat, but his plate was empty. "It isn't fair!" he cried. "I did what the king wanted, yet still I go hungry! How can the king not care about me?"
It was only years later that Yisrael realized that he had received his true reward. The king appointed Yisrael second in command over his entire kingdom.
The second category of mitzvot, for which we are rewarded in this world, is illustrated by the following parable:
The same king once met Yisrael and asked him to do a different sort of favor: he wanted him to feed his children, the royal princes and princesses. Yisrael, of course, immediately stopped what he was doing and arranged a lavish meal for the king's children. This time the king did not allow Yisrael to go hungry. In addition to the reward he would get later, the boy was invited to sit at the table and eat.
So too is it when we help our fellow Jews. Not only are we rewarded later, but the King of the universe grants us our reward in the here and now.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 19
by Yehudis Cohen
A little over one month ago, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary to Australia and a giant of a man, passed away after a long illness. The following article about Rabbi Groner appeared in the first issue of the L'Chaim Monthly newspaper, January, 1989.
The list of Lubavitch programs and institutions in Melbourne, Australia, seems endless. Every item flows easily from Rabbi Yitzchok Groner's lips. He speaks of each with the same pride one would hear from a grandfather whose grandchildren have given him much nachas (pleasure).
One might wonder what Rabbi Groner's goals were when he stepped foot on Australian soil. "When I came to Australia, 30 years ago, I had no goals, no aim, except," he states with a serious, sincere tone of voice, "to spread Yiddishkeit (Judaism) and help as many people as possible. My first visit to Australia was in 1947. I came as a shaliach (emissary) of the P Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Groner's main objective was to raise funds for various Lubavitcher projects. Again, in 1954, Rabbi Groner visited Australia. But it wasn't until 1958 that he actually settled in Melbourne with his wife and six children.
"A shaliach of the Rebbe has a certain responsibility. 'A shaliach of a person is like that person, himself.' A shaliach's goals," continues Rabbi Groner, "are to do what the Rebbe wants, and the Rebbe wants what G-d wants - to bring Judaism to every Jew. A shaliach must effuse a love of every Jew which is in a manner of 'shtus d'kedush' - beyond all limitations. In addition, a shaliach cannot be passive. He must work beyond his strength and ability. Then, and only then, will the Rebbe's blessing for success come into actuality."
Although this interview is supposed to be about Rabbi Groner and all of his accomplishments in helping build the Jewish community in Melbourne in general and the Lubavitch community in particular, time and again, Rabbi Groner goes back to the subject of the personality of a shaliach and the fact that a shaliach is truly a conduit for the work of the Rebbe.
Rabbi Groner is described by former students and relatives as someone totally butel (nullified) to the Rebbe. However, when Rabbi Groner enters a room, his presence is felt. He is a large man, and his voice booms when he speaks to a crowd, especially when he speaks passionately, which is often. People have said that, when hearing him "at his best" - gesturing, his voice thundering to emphasize his point - one could almost picture Moses on Mount Sinai, rebuking the Jewish people.
One might think that such a person would make a formidable and intimidating boss. Yet Rabbi Groner makes sure to allow all those who work under him to express themselves in their own way. Whether Chabad House director in Perth or a teacher at Ohel Chana, he encourages them to grow in the most appropriate way for their situation.
Rabbi Groner remembers that when he came to Australia in 1947 there was a group of Jews who said that Lubavitch would never be able to attract the Australian youth. "No until hair grows on your palm," was the expression they used. They have been proven wrong, Lubavitch has attracted the "youth" and turned them into caring, responsive and committed Jews.
Time and again, in the course of conversation, Rabbi Groner constantly veers back to his favorite subject - the responsibility of a shaliach. It is as if he wants to ensure that a story about Rabbi Yitzchok Groner will not be about Rabbi Yitzchok Groner. It will be the story of any shaliach who is truly dedicated to the Rebbe and his work.
He begins, "The mazel, the zodiac sign of the month of Shevat [the month this interview took place] is a bucket, d'lee. A bucket symbolizes the essence of the Jewish people. A Jew goes down, draws substance, and gives to others. About Abraham's servant and disciple it says in the Talmud, 'Doleh u'mashke mitoraso shel rabo - He draws and is quenched by the teaching of his master - Abraham.'
"A shaliach is a d'lee. He is nothing but an empty vessel. He has to go down to the dark recesses of the well, where it is cold and damp. His main objective is to draw the water - the teachings of the Rebbe - up and use it to quench the thirst of others. And then, what happens to the d'lee?" Rabbi Groner asks with a smile. "It is hung up and forgotten. That," he says decisively, "is a shaliach."
Bringing an example from his surroundings to further illustrate his point, Rabbi Groner motions out the window, toward Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway where major construction on the city's pipes is underway. "Do you see the pipes?" he asks. "When they're put underground, they will be put as deep as possible. They will be hidden from sight. A shaliach is like a pipe. The more hidden, the more butel he [his ego] is, the more he accomplishes."
Rabbi Groner concludes with one last thought on what a shaliach is. "The old Chasidim in Lubavitch used to say, 'it's 100% for sure that what the Rebbe wants to accomplish, he will accomplish. Hashem should help that a little of what needs to be accomplished will come through me."
Saying Mazel Tov!
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health depends on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our declaration of dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. To get a color print of the Psalm call Taharas Hamishpacha Int'l. at (718) 756-5700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
25 Adar, 5721 
I received your letter which is an acknowledgment of my letter. I was pleased to read in it about your shiurim [study classes], and I hope that you make additional efforts from time to time in accordance with the precept of our Sages that all things of holiness should be on the upgrade.
Generally speaking, all the questions which you mentioned have already been answered in our sacred books, and those who continue to argue about them do so mostly either because of ignorance or mischief. Some people simply fear that if they accepted the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments] fully, they would be obliged to commit themselves in their daily life and conduct, and give up certain pleasures, and the like. Therefore, they try to justify their misguided views by futile arguments.
By way of example, I will take one question which you mention in your letter, and which apparently was impressed upon you as something complicated, but in reality the matter was discussed and solved very simply in our sacred literature. I refer to the question of how can man have freedom of choice of action if G-d already knows beforehand what he is going to do? The answer to this is simple enough as can be seen on the basis of two illustrations:
- Suppose there is a human being who can foretell the future of what is going to happen to a person. This does not mean that this knowledge deprives that person from acting freely as before. It only means that the knowledge of the forecaster is such that it is the knowledge of how the person will choose freely and of his own volition. Similarly, G-d's knowledge of human actions is such that it does not deprive humans from the free choice of action, but it only means that G-d knows how the person will choose to act in a certain situation. To formulate this in scientific terms, we can say that the opposite of free choice is not pre-knowledge, but compulsion, for there is such knowledge which does not entail compulsion (as for example, knowledge of the past).
- Every believer in G-d, and not Jews only, believes that with G-d the past, present and future are all the same, since He is above time and space. Just as in the case of human affairs, the fact that Mr. X knows all that happened to Mr. Y in the past, this knowledge did not affect Mr. Y's actions in the past, so G-d's knowledge of the future, which is the same as His knowledge of the past, does not affect the free choice of human action.
From the simple solution to the above question, you can draw an analogy in regard to all similar questions and be sure that there is an answer to them, and very often a simple one. But the proper Jewish way is to fulfill the Torah and mitzvoth without question, and then to try and find out anything that one wishes to find out about the Torah and mitzvoth, but not, G-d forbid, make human understanding a condition of performance of G-d's commandments.
What was the reason for the custom, in ancient Israel, of Jewish girls going out into the fields to dance on the 15th of Av?
The 15th of Av is the day when the Jewish people were forgiven for their believing the evil report made against the Land of Israel by the spies in the desert. Since it was a day of forgiveness, it was considered an especially appropriate time for activities that would lead to marriages. Each girl wore a borrowed white dress so that no one would be embarrassed by her poverty. It was a festival whose activities - even its dances - were solely for the sake of Heaven.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat, we celebrate the festive day of the Fifteen of Av. On the 15th of Av the days begin to get shorter. In times gone by, the onset of evening meant that the workday was over. Our Sages, therefore, encourage us to use the longer evenings for increased study of Jewish subjects.
The exile is often referred to as "night" and the Redemption, as "dawn." Though we are certainly in the last few moments of the long night of exile, it sometimes seems like the "night" is getting longer rather than shorter. Thus, the above teaching of our Sages is certainly appropriate.
Maimonides explains that in the era of the Redemption, the sole occupation of the world will be to know G-d. The Rebbe suggested, therefore, that as a preparation for that time, we increase in our studies wherever possible. In addition, the Rebbe expressed the following thoughts on studying matters specifically concerning Moshiach and the Redemption.
"Since Moshiach is about to come, a final effort is required that will bring him. Every man, woman and child should increase his Torah study in subjects that concern the Redemption... One should likewise upgrade one's meticulous observance of mitzvot, particularly charity, 'which brings the Redemption near.'
"The above-described study is not only a spiritual means of securing the speedy advent of Moshiach; it is a way of beginning to live one's life in the mood of Moshiach and the Redemption by having one's mind permeated with an understanding of the concepts of Moshiach and Redemption. From the mind, these concepts will then find their way into the emotions Ultimately, they will find expression in one's actual conduct - in thought, word and deed - in a way befitting this unique era when we stand on the threshold of the Redemption."
And I pleaded with the L-rd (va'etchanan) at that time (Deut. 3:23)
One reason the Torah uses this phrase instead of "va'etpalel" ("and I prayed") is that the numerical equivalent of "va'etchanan" is the same as "tefila" ("prayer") and "shira" ("song"). This teaches that it is commendable to pray in a melodious, pleasant voice, utilizing the best of one's G-d-given abilities for speech and song for a higher purpose.
Lest you corrupt yourselves and make a graven image (Deut. 4:16)
Why did Moses have to remind the Jewish people not to make graven images, considering the fact that they had just spent forty years in the desert and had seen all sorts of open miracles and wonders? Were they not already on such a high spiritual level that making a graven image would be unthinkable? From this we learn that an individual must never think that his worship of G-d is perfect and he is beyond temptation. One must be ever on guard, even against those sins which appear to have no attraction whatsoever.
You have been shown to know that the L-rd is G-d (Deut. 4:35)
When G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai to the soul of every Jew of every generation, He thereby made it possible for any Jew who sincerely desires to serve Him to perceive the true essence of the world, despite the darkness and concealment of what presents itself as reality.
Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One (Deut. 6:4)
"My children," G-d declares to Israel, "everything I created in the world I created in pairs: heaven and earth; sun and moon; Adam and Eve; this world and the world to come. I alone am without counterpart."
On one of the Skuler Rebbe's visits to Reb Boruch of Medzibuzh, he told Reb Boruch the following story:
"Once I was sitting together with the Baal Shem Tov when two strangers entered the room. The more distinguished-looking of the two men approached the Baal Shem Tov and spoke: 'We have come to ask the advice of the tzadik,' he said. Then he continued with his story: 'I am the rabbi of a small town in this district and I have come to ask the Baal Shem Tov if I should make a match between my daughter and this man's son.'
"The Baal Shem Tov looked closely for a full minute at the speaker and then shifted his penetrating glance to the other man. Then he replied without hesitation, 'Why not?'
"The rabbi looked surprised at the response and began speaking rapidly and nervously, explaining his situation. 'You see, Rebbe, this man is a simple person, not at all learned - in fact, he had been water carrier when fortune smiled on him and he became a wealthy man. Then, he got it into his head that he wanted to make a match between his son and my daughter. Of course, he realized I would never entertain such a proposition so he approached my children's teacher with an offer: He would pay the teacher fifty rubles in advance if he would come to me every day and ask me to arrange the marriage between my daughter and the water carrier's son.'
"The Baal Shem Tov turned to the rich man and asked, 'Is all this true?'
" 'Yes, Rabbi,' he replied. 'I knew that he wouldn't go for the idea right away, but I figured if he were asked every day for a few weeks, he would begin to think about it more seriously, and it might go through.'
" 'Yes,' chimed in the rabbi, 'I can't get rid of this pest. Every day the teacher comes to me with the same story about the rich man's son, until I really can't stand it any more. Nothing will dissuade him, and so I finally agreed to come to you and accept whatever verdict that you give. If you say I should arrange the match, it's as good as done; if you say to forget it, he has agreed to leave me alone.'
" 'All right, then,' replied the Baal Shem Tov, 'tell me, is this man a G-d-fearing person? Is the family known to be engaged in good deeds and charity? Are they honest, good people?'
"The rabbi could only answer in the affirmative to all the Baal Shem Tov's questions, for the rich man and his family were known to be fine, upstanding people and no one had ever had a bad word to say against them. 'If that's the case,' said the Baal Shem Tov, 'let's arrange the marriage now. There's no reason to delay.' They sealed the agreement, l'chaims were poured, and happy mazal-tovs were exchanged all around. The two men shook hands and seemed to be satisfied with the arrangement.
"When the men departed, the Besht turned to me, and said," 'That man would make a good matchmaker in the world of clowns.' He chuckled to himself and seemed to be amused at something I couldn't understand.
"I had no idea what he meant by that odd remark, but I intended to find out, so I left and followed the two men to the local inn where I knew they were staying. When I found the rabbi I related the Baal Shem Tov's statement to him in hopes of receiving some explanation which would illuminate the mysterious remark of the Besht.
"The rabbi listened incredulously and then with great excitement, cried out, 'Now I understand where I was in my dream! Let me explain. You see, not long ago I dreamed that I was traveling around in my district to receive payment from my congregants as I usually did, in the form of all sorts of farm produce. I arrived in one village and entered the study hall where I overheard a discussion which was taking place between the men seated around a long table. They were having a heated argument about some scholarly topic which, to me, seemed an easy question to resolve. I ventured to explain it in a simple fashion when suddenly I heard a loud voice from the back of the shul saying, "How dare this man offer an opinion in such matters? Why he's nothing but an ignoramus!"'
" 'In the next part of my dream, I was in a different village where the same scene repeated itself. Then, I went to another village where it happened yet again. In each town I entered a study hall, overheard a learned dispute, and ventured my opinion, only to be derided and shamed.
"In the last part of my dream, which was similar to all the others, an elderly rabbi approached me and said, "This ignoramus still doesn't want to marry his daughter to the son of the rich man?" I woke up completely upset and confused.
" 'Now that you have told me the words of the Baal Shem Tov, I understand the meaning of these dreams. In the world of dreams I had been made sport of so that my pride would be broken and I would agree to the match between my daughter and the rich man's son. Now I understand that the marriage has been ordained in Heaven.' "
When the pre-marriage contract was written for Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev's niece, he told them to write: "The wedding will take place, G-d willing, with good mazal, in the holy city of Jerusalem. And if, G-d forbid, Moshiach has not arrived by then, the wedding will take place in Berditchev."