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Apples dipped in honey. Children waving little flags decorated with Torahs. Breaking the fast with the family. Shaking the lulav and etrog. The month bursting with Jewish holidays is over. How many of us took full advantage of the numerous opportunities at our fingertips to do simple mitzvot, or eat traditional food, or participate in a passel of customs?
If you're feeling a little remiss or just a trifle negligent, don't worry. You have plenty of opportunities to incorporate acts-for-a-higher-purpose, deeds which transcend your day-to-day existence, into your life. And you don't have to wait until the next Jewish holiday some two months from now, or even Shabbat, to afford yourself the opportunity.
One day one of the virulent anti-Semitic members of the Hungarian parliment appeared with a copy of the Code of Jewish Law in Hungarian, and to the glee of his friends read those extracts in which a Jew is told which hand to wash first, which shoe to put on first, which lace to tie first, and so on. This produced gales of laughter from his friends.
"How absurd! How ridiculous!" they cried in scorn.
At this point, the prime minister rose and as the House became quiet, he said: "On the contrary, gentlemen. How sublime when even a single act such as tying a shoelace has a meaning in a person's life!"
It might seem a bit difficult to turn an act as apparently insignificant as tying a shoelace into something sublime. But certainly there are more consequential acts in our lives which can take on deeper meaning once we realize that they are, indeed, "sublime."
Take jobs, for instance. Jobs can bring ego, status, or power, not to mention money, health insurance and other monetary benefits. But jobs become more meaningful when the ultimate goal is greater--such as having in mind that a portion of the money earned will go to charity.
The same is true of eating. Enjoy the cheese cake (or that crisp, crunchy red delicious apple if you're into eating healthy). And while you're enjoying it think about how you'll put all the nourishment you're getting from it to good use. Like, now you'll be refreshed and energetic enough to be patient with co-workers, friends, maybe even family!
Turn the new car you're shopping for into a mitzva machine. You can use it when you offer your neighbor a ride to the supermarket while his/her car is in the shop. You can drive it to the local Jewish library and take out a book about Jewish mysticism, the weekly Torah portion, an English Talmud, or a Jewish video for the kids.
Even your lawn mower can get into the action. Mow your neighbor's patch of grass that borders your lawn and you've used it to perform an act of kindness.
The list is endless. It goes on and on. Isn't it exhilirating to think that you can do something sublime and touch the Divine when tying your shoelaces!
In this week's Torah portion, Noach, we read the famous story of Noach and the flood. It was at the express command of G-d that Noach first entered the ark, as it states, "Come you and all your household into the ark." It was also at G-d's express command that he left it, as we are told, "Go forth from the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons' wives with you."
Thus it is difficult to understand why Noach sent out the raven and the dove to determine if the Flood had ended. If Noach was supposed to wait until G-d told him it was time to leave, why did he send the birds out to see if the waters had abated? Why wasn't he content to wait for G-d's command?
In truth, by sending the birds from the ark, Noach was expressing his strong desire to leave it. Rather than waiting for G-d to come to him, he did all in his power to facilitate his exit. Noach sent the raven, and indeed sent the dove out twice, in the hope that the Flood had receded and it was already permissible for him to leave.
When G-d saw Noach's efforts and observed his intense longing to go out, He hastened to issue His command. In fact, the command "Go out of the ark" was given in the merit of Noach's exertions.
Exile, is likened to the mabul (Flood), for in exile our perceptions of reality are mevulbal (confused). The spiritual nature of the world is hidden, whereas physicality is easily perceived. In exile it is hard for the Jew to appreciate that his true function is the service of G-d, for the material world conspires to obscure the underlying reality. The confusion of exile is so great that the falsehood of the world is often mistaken for truth.
In such circumstances it is forbidden to sit back with our arms folded. We cannot wait until G-d will come and tell us to go out of exile.
Learning from the example of Noach, we must also do all in our power to determine if the misfortune has ended and hasten our departure from exile. Rather than wait placidly for the exile to be over, we must expend all necessary efforts to put an end to it immediately.
What can we do? First, we must believe that at any minute the exile can end and Moshiach will come. Second, we should disseminate the belief in Moshiach and the anticipation of his coming. We must also increase our performance of good deeds, and bombard G-d with petitions and prayers that He remove us at once from the exile and bring us to Redemption.
When G-d will see our strong desire and intense longing to leave exile, most assuredly He will hasten to send our Moshiach. In the merit of our efforts He will certainly fulfill our hearts' desire, and bring Moshiach to us at once.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Hitva'aduyot 5745, Volume 4
In My Father's Footsteps
by David Sacks
It's one of those one-in-a-zillion stories. The type my father likes to say would give a computer a nervous breakdown. It begins in 1946. My father had just finished his military service and was living in Los Angeles, an exotic choice for a Newark, New Jersey boy, and was just beginning a stint at UCLA.
It was summer time, the new term was about to begin, and my father was looking for a place to stay. He went to the fraternity closest to campus, gave them a deposit and began to unpack.
A short while later there was a knock at the door. It was one of the senior members of the fraternity. He quickly assessed the situation, and began hinting that my father "might be more comfortable elsewhere."
This seemed strange. My father just landed a spot as close as you could get to the campus - what could be "more comfortable" than that? My father assured him that he was happy there, but the man persisted, saying that it might be nicer to be around people "more like yourself." By way of example, he mentioned the name of the Jewish fraternity nearby.
Naively, my father explained that having just served in the United States Army, he had been exposed to all kinds of people, and enjoyed - even thrived - on diversity.
The man repeated that my father would feel more comfortable elsewhere, but this time it wasn't a suggestion. They were his parting words. He gave my father back his deposit and left the room.
Suddenly, my father understood. No Jews Allowed.
My father vividly recalls how as he walked down the stairs, the ping-pong game in the rec room abruptly stopped, and everyone became uncomfortably silent. It stayed that way until he left the building.
But the real story begins with what happened next.
There were any number of places my father could have gone. While anti-Semitism was still a potent force in American society, the flood gates of assimilation were open, and tens of thousands of Jews were rushing through leaving their Jewishness behind. It would have been a perfect moment for my father to do the same. After all, if this is what comes with being Jewish, then who needs it?
But my father made the exact opposite choice. He went to the Jewish frat house on 741 Gayley Avenue and took up residence there.
Cut to Yom Kippur, 40 years later. After a very unlikely series of events, I, too, ended up in Los Angeles. In a nutshell, while attending Harvard, I started writing for the Lampoon, and improbably decided on a career in comedy writing. Even more improbably, after graduating with no job prospects, and taking my old job back as an elevator operator in my parent's building on 79th and Broadway, the phone rang. "Not Necessarily the News," a show on HBO, called, offering me a three-week trial period on their writing staff. (That led to a second three-week trial period, which led to a four-week contract. My introduction to job security, Hollywood style.)
I didn't grow up observant, but my parents' instilled within me a strong sense of Jewish identity. As a child, I remember my mother saying "Shema" with me before I went to bed. As an eight-year-old, I remember reading Hasidic stories from "Talks and Tales," the Lubavitch children magazine an observant neighbor sent my older brother as a bar mitzva present. As an 11-year-old I began attending Camp Ramah, the conservative sleepover camp, and at 14 I remember dancing with a Torah scroll at Reb Shlomo Carlebach's shul on Simchat Torah, feeling absolutely whole, and knowing that I had connected with the essence of my life.
In the years that followed, I always wanted to do more Jewishly, but somehow I had given myself permission to stagnate.
Then came Yom Kippur.
Even though I wasn't "religious," I wanted to go to an Orthodox shul that I could walk to. The closest one at that time was the Chabad of Westwood. At the end of a long day of services, Rabbi Baruch Cunin concluded with a declaration that every Jewish male over 13 must put on tefilin every day except Shabbat, and that every Jewish woman must light Shabbat candles before sundown Friday nights. All I could think was - he's right. I owned tefilin. I had put them on during summer camp, but that was basically it. Nonetheless, they were incredibly precious to me. Wherever I went, even if it was for only a weekend, I would take them with me. "Who knows?" I thought, "Maybe I'll want to put them on, and if they're not there, what will I do?"
After that Yom Kippur, I started putting on tefilin and never stopped.
That mitzva transformed my life. Before long, I was keeping Shabbat, marrying a wonderful Jewish woman, and sending my children to yeshiva.
And now for the part that continues to amaze me. That fateful encounter at the Chabad House on Yom Kippur, happened at 741 Gayley Avenue, the exact location of the Jewish frat house my father reaffirmed his Jewish ties at 40 years earlier.
It is astounding how precisely G-d governs the world. Beyond the synchronicity though, I think there is an even deeper lesson. When we do something holy, not only do we elevate ourselves and our past, but we open up gates in Heaven for our future, and not just our own - but our children's and children's children until the end of time.
I heard from Rabbi Simcha Weinberg that when we experience moments of transcendence, we should use them to pray for our future descendants.
I don't know if consciously or unconsciously, my father had me in mind when he reaffirmed his commitment to being Jewish, but I am living proof that he opened doors for me that I continue to walk through to this day.
David Sacks is an award-winning writer and producer. To hear his weekly Torah talks visit www.613.org/sacks.html.
A new Chabad Center serving Jewish students on all Portland, Oregon, area campuses was established in time for the holidays by Rabbi Dov and Chani Bialo. Rabbi Elly and Gilah Andrusier recently moved to North Irvine, California, where they have established a new Chabad House serving the Jewish communities of South Tustin, North Irvine and Lake Forest.
New Torah Scrolls
Chabad-Lubavitch of upper Montgomery County, Maryland, celebrated the completion of a new Torah scroll. A Torah scroll dedicated to Jewish unity was completed and donated to the Western Wall Synagogue. The Jewish Unity Torah project was started six years ago by the Chabad Youth Organization during the second Intifada to bring joy and hope to Jews in Israel.
Freely translated and adapted
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Sedra Noach
30th day of Tishrei
Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan, 5744 (1983)
Greeting and Blessing:
At this time, at the conclusion of the month of Tishrei, and in light of the adage in our sacred sources to the effect that the Hebrew letters of the name of this month - Tishrei - also spell the word "reishis" - meaning beginning and head (rosh) of the year, indicating that just as the head conducts all the affairs of the body, so the month "Reishis" determines the Jew's conduct throughout the year, and the remembrance of the resolutions made in Tishrei during each and all days ahead "vitalizes" the particular day with all its activities, including words and thoughts, and inspires new enthusiasm, light and holiness flowings from the month of Tishrei - the head;
It is timely and auspicious to recall and emphasize, at least in summary, the significance of this month and of its outstanding festive days.
Each of Tishrei's special days is in its own domain a "head" and a source of instructive teachings, while being also a source of strength and inspiration, for all the following days throughout the year.
These are: the acceptance of the rule of Heaven's Sovereignty, with Yiras Shamayim (awe of G-d) - the basic point of Rosh Hashanah; Teshuvah - (Return) - the central aspect of Yom Kippur; performance of Mitzvos (commandments) with joy and alacrity, to the point of highest expression of joy with the Torah - the main points of Succos, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah -
All the above with strong, genuine emphasis to ensure that all the instructive teachings and resolutions will be carried out in the fullest measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in actual practice, since "action is the essential thing.' "
Thus every day of the year, from the moment of awakening, begins with saying "Modeh Ani" ("I give thanks to You, O King etc.), reflecting the"Crowning" of G-d on Rosh Hashanah and accepting His Kingship;
Saying it with such profound sincerity that will inspire and ensure Yiras HaShem (awe of G-d) the whole day, as well as Teshuvah, and to be expressed in joyous performance of Mitzvos (the King's commands), particularly Torah study, and all that with the greatest measure of joy, which are the central themes of Yom Kippur, Succos (and the "Four Kinds") Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, as mentioned above.
Striving for perfection in all above will add strength to every Jew and unite all Jews through the one Torah given to all by the one G-d, and elevate them to be truly an G-d's community and people, and will reveal, that G-d "stands" (with the authority of a King) within His community; and indeed, He preeedes them with, giving them the strength and blessing to carry it all out with joy and in the fullest measure.
Particularly in this year, a Leap Year....
All this will surely hasten still more and bring closer the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach, with ease and serenity, with perfect peace and perfect serenity,
In our own days, very soon indeed.
With esteem and blessing of success
P.S. If for some reason one has not yet put into effect all the above instructive lessons of Tishrei - it has been explained in various sources, also in regard to actual practice and Jewish law, that a festival extends in some aspects for a certain period after the festival. In our case and in regard to these lessons - from Shemini Atzeres (and Simchas Torah) to the seventh of MarCheshvan
It may be added that although, generally, Cheshbon-Hanefesh (self-appraisal) and the like is best done in private, it is very advisable in the present case to do it also at a get-together. For then the occasion offers the force of a communal resolve, and there is also the combined merit of the many...
What are "sheva brachot"?
There are seven blessings which are recited over wine during and after a wedding ceremony. When a minyan is present the sheva brachot are also recited at meals during the week following the wedding. It has become customary to prepare a marriage feast for each of the seven days after the wedding and they are commonly referred to as "Sheva Brachot."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
At a gathering on this Shabbat, the Rebbe spoke about the importance of saying the prayers for the sanctification of the moon - Kiddush HaLevana, allowing that perhaps the reason this mitzva has not been meticulously observed recently is because the prayer must be recited outside and people feel uncomfortable about it.
However, as the Rebbe expressed so many times, we are literally on the threshold of the Redemption. Now is the time to brush up on any observances that were possibly neglected in the past, as a way of further preparing ourselves for the imminent Redemption.
It is customary to recite Kiddush Levana together with as many people as possible, but preferably with at least one other person.
In most prayer books, the prayers for the Sanctification of the Moon are found after the evening service or after the Havdala service of Saturday night.
The blessing may be recited only until the conclusion of the fifteenth day after the rebirth of the moon. According to Kabala, the blessing should not be recited before he seventh day after the rebirth of the moon.
The blessing should be recited under the open skies, but may not be recited when the moon is covered with clouds.
It is preferably to recite the blessing on Saturday night, while one is still in festive clothing.
The ceremony of the Sanctification of the Moon includes the following verse from Song of Songs: "The voice of my beloved! Here he comes, leaping over the mountains, skipping over the hills." On this verse, the Yalkut Shimoni comments: " 'The voice of my beloved' - this refers to Moshiach. He comes and tells Israel, 'You will be redeemed this month.' "
May Moshiach leap over any and all obstacles that hold back the Redemption and allow this promise to be realized in the present month.
Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood (Gen. 6:14)
If the purpose of the ark was "to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth" - to make sure that each animal species continued to propagate - why did G-d instruct Noach to make it "for himself"? Because man's place in the universe is unique and crucial to all of creation. If he conducts himself according to G-d's will, he raises up and elevates the entire world; if not, he drags down the entire planet with him.
(Sefer HaMaamarim 5699)
In the six hundredth year of Noach's life... all the fountains of the great deep were opened and the windows of heaven were opened (Gen. 7:11)
According to the Zohar, this refers to the six hundredth year of the sixth millennium (5600 - corresponding to the civil year of 1840), when the gates of wisdom above (G-dly knowledge, specifically the inner, mystical teachings of the Torah) and the fountains of wisdom below (science and technology) were opened in preparation for the Messianic era, when "The whole earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d."
And he sent forth a dove (Gen. 8:8)
Where did it fly? To the land of Israel, which had not been inundated by the great Flood. The Jewish people is likened to a dove. Banished and exiled over the face of the earth, the Jew's heart is nonetheless always drawn to the Holy Land, the land of Israel.
(Be'er Mayim Chaim)
Go forth from the ark (Gen. 8:16)
"Your whole approach is wrong," G-d told Noach. "A person should not remain isolated from the world, safe and secure within the 'four cubits of Torah.' It is not right to think only about yourself. 'Go forth from the ark' - go out into the marketplace and mingle with the crowd, where you can influence them for good."
There was once a Chasid who travelled to his Rebbe, Reb Yisrael of Koznitz, every month to take in the atmosphere of holiness which filled the very air of the Rebbe's court. Although in general he was happy with his lot in life, he knew he would only be completely content if he had a child.
Several times his wife had encouraged that he ask the Rebbe for a blessing to cure their childlessness, but to no avail. His wife wouldn't desist from her pleas. "This time," she insisted, "you must not leave the holy Rebbe until he answers our request."
The next time when the Chasid came to Koznitz and was admitted into the Rebbe's chambers, he told the Rebbe of their longing for a child. The Rebbe listened and offered him the solution his spiritual vision afforded him: "If you are willing to become a pauper you will be granted the blessing you seek." The man agreed to discuss the condition with his wife and return with her answer.
The woman didn't think for a moment. "Of course it's worth everything to me." The man returned to Koznitz and accepted the harsh prescription. But poverty was not the end of the Rebbe's advice; the man was sent on a long arduous journey to visit the famous tzadik, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin.
The Chozeh was known for his power to discern the state and provenance of a person's soul, and when he met the Chasid he studied his visitor long and hard before he spoke.
"I will tell you the source of your childlessness and what you must do to correct the problem. Once, when you were very young, you promised to wed a certain maiden. When you matured, she didn't interest you any longer and you broke your promise. Because you hurt her feelings, you have not been able to have children since. You must find her and beg her forgiveness. Go to the city of Balta (which was very distant); there you'll find the woman."
The Chasid wasted no time in embarking on the journey. But when he arrived in Balta no one knew anything about the woman. He rented a room and waited to see the words of the tzadik materialize.
One day, he was walking down the street when he was caught in a sudden downpour. He ran to a nearby shop to escape from the rain and found himself standing near two women who were also seeking shelter. Suddenly, he was shocked to hear one say to the other, "Do you see that man? He was once betrothed to me in my youth and deserted me!" He turned to see a woman dressed in the richest fabrics and wearing beautiful jewels.
He approached her and she said, "Don't you remember me? I am the one you were engaged to so many years ago. Have you any children?"
He immediately poured out the entire story, telling her that he had come only to find her and beseech her to forgive him. He begged her to ask of him anything to atone for the terrible pain he had caused her.
"I lack nothing, for G-d has provided me with everything, but I have a brother who is in desperate need. Go to him and give him 200 gold coins with which he can marry off his daughter, and I will forgive you. In the merit of marrying off a poor bride you will be blessed with children, as the tzadik told you."
"Please, you give your brother this money. I have travelled many months and I'm very anxious to return home."
"No," the woman adamantly refused. "I am not able to travel now, and it is not feasible to send such a sum of money. No, you must go yourself." With that, she turned and proceeded down the street.
The Chasid ventured on yet another journey to a distant city where he was able to locate the woman's brother.
The man was in a terrible state of agitation which he readily explained: "My daughter is betrothed to a wealthy young man, but I have suddenly become penniless and unless I can find the dowry money, the marriage is off."
The Chasid listened to the heart-rending tale and then said: "I will give you two hundred gold coins which will be more than enough for all your expenses." The man couldn't believe his ears. "What, you don't even know me - why would you do such a thing for a total stranger?"
"I have been sent by your sister whom I met a few weeks ago in Balta. Many years ago I was once betrothed to her and I abandoned her, and the help I'm offering to you is my promise to her."
"What are you saying?" the man turned pale. "What kind of crazy tale are you spinning and why? My sister has been dead for fifteen years. I should know - I buried her myself!" Now it was time for the Chasid to be shocked.
The Chasid pondered the miracles G-d had wrought on his behalf so that he would be able to make amends to his former fiance and merit to have a child of his own. He handed the man the golden coins and the man blessed him to be granted many sons and daughters and a long and happy life of joy from them.
"Mabul," floodwaters, is a metaphor for exile. The etymology of the word "mabul" is "bilbul" - confusion. Exile is a state of confusion, where everything in the world is not seen as it actually is but rather as a distortion. However, just a the waters of the flood were intended to purify the world, so too the purpose of the overwhelming floodwaters of exile is to purify the world, to bring the world to a state of refinement where there is no potential for any more exile - the true and complete Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 10 Tammuz 5745-1985)