Fast Food Judaism | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Customs | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Long before fast-food emporiums dotted the landscape like mushrooms after a rain, our Sages suggested we implement the fast-food mentality into our lives, though with a Jewish twist, of course. "Grab and eat, grab and drink," Rabbi Shmuel told his student Rabbi Yehuda Shenina (as recorded in the Talmud). "For life is like a party that will soon be over."
Far from being a fatalistic outlook, or one that places the emphasis on physicality, Rabbi Shmuel's words teach us how to define our goals and motivate ourselves Jewishly.
Mitzvot (commandments) are likened to food and the Torah is likened to water, in Chasidic philosophy. "Do mitzvot, study Torah," Rabbi Shmuel taught. "For life - in this world - will soon be over and in the World to Come these same opportunities to do mitzvot and study Torah will no longer be available."
Picture yourself in a fast-food line. Are you going to stand there leisurely contemplating the menu as you would in a fine restaurant, discussing it with the people joining you, maybe even asking what the Maitre`di suggests? Or would you order quickly from the list on the wall and hungrily gobble it down? Most likely you would do the latter, since expedience and swiftness are major reasons for your choice of restaurant styles.
Similarly, Chasidic philosophy explains that since we are getting closer every day to the Redemption, the era of peace, prosperity, wisdom and health promised by G-d and foretold by the prophets, we shouldn't spend time contemplating a menu of mitzvot. We don't have time any longer to sit and relax at a fine restaurant, dillydallying until we make our choice.
Action is the main thing. Grab and eat, grab and drink. Whatever mitzva comes your way, do it. Whichever Jewish learning opportunity is available, benefit from it. We're living life in the fast-lane, traveling on the express train.
A Jewish fast-food mentality means taking hold of our every opportunity to do a mitzva, regardless of whether or not we think it should be the next one in our repertoire. There's no time for, "How can I light Shabbat candles if on Saturday I ..." Or, "Why put on tefilin if I don't..." Or, "How can I attend a Jewish mysticism/Chasidic philosophy class if I don't even know the Hebrew alphabet?"
Grab and eat, grab and drink means that these last few moments before the Messianic Era need to be filled with action not contemplation, deeds not meditations. Soon the party will be over, or will it just be beginning?
In this week's Torah portion, Vayeira, we read of Abraham's attempt to save the wicked city. When G-d told Abraham He was going to destroy the city of Sodom, Abraham tried everything he could think of to dissuade Him, as the Torah tells us, "And Abraham drew near and said, 'Will You then destroy the righteous with the wicked?'"
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains the meaning of this verse: "Abraham attempted all these methods: speaking harshly, appeasement, and prayer."
Abraham was willing to do anything in order to save the city of Sodom. His first approach was to "speak harshly" to G-d. When that wasn't effective, he tried to appease Him, and when that didn't work he resorted to prayer and supplication. All possible means were attempted in Abraham's bid to persuade G-d to avert the decree.
Our Patriarch Abraham was referred to by G-d as "Abraham, the one who loves Me." How then could Abraham have had the audacity to address G-d harshly?
Also, why did Abraham begin his attempt to dissuade G-d from carrying out His plan with harsh words, rather than first trying to appease G-d in a more conciliatory manner, or with prayer? Wasn't Abraham characterized by his great kindness?
The key to understanding this lies in the fact that Abraham was faced with a matter involving the saving of lives. G-d had already issued His decree; the angels had already been dispatched to destroy the city. Thus Abraham saw no other choice but to demand that G-d change His mind, even if harsh words were required.
At such a time, Abraham did not allow himself the luxury of taking personal considerations into account. No method of persuasion was off-limits or out of bounds. The only thing that mattered was that the city of Sodom not be destroyed, and Abraham tried with all his might to prevent it from happening. Speaking harshly to G-d was the antithesis of Abraham's nature; nonetheless, he did not refrain from doing so in the hope that it would bring about the desired effect of saving the city and its inhabitants.
We, the descendants of Abraham, must learn from his example and emulate his ways.
Whenever the saving of a Jewish life is involved, be it in the physical or spiritual sense, we cannot stop to weigh our choices or to calculate our options. The thing to do is act, and to act immediately. All of our efforts, all of our strengths and energy must be used to that end, even if it is contrary to our nature and even if harsh words are required. For all methods are permissible when it comes to saving the life of a fellow Jew.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 10
A Taste of Shabbos
by Helen Zegerman Schwimmer
All of us are on our own personal journey and there are times we're not even aware that we've been traveling until we suddenly find ourselves at a new destination. My journey began unexpectedly when my husband and I were invited for Shabbos dinner at the home of his patients, Rabbi Zushe and Rebbetzin Esther Winner of the Seabreeze Jewish Center. As the pediatrician who took care of the couple's eight children, my husband already had a warm relationship with the family of Lubavitcher Chasidim who welcomed Jews of all backgrounds to their home.
There were several other couples present and although I found the conversation stimulating and the food extraordinary, it was the sheer joy of being Jewish that permeated the Winner home and made the entire evening so unforgettable. That Friday night I discovered Shabbos was more than just chicken soup, an "aha" moment that led to a seismic shift in the direction of my life.
I started down this new path by enrolling in Esther's classes for women, tackling Beginner's Hebrew and Prayer so that once unfamiliar words like Hashem (G-d) gradually became a natural part of my vocabulary. Over the next few years we became good friends working closely together on her numerous holiday programs, but it was the special taste of Shabbos I first experienced in her home that ultimately inspired me to produce a Jewish cooking video. Combining her expertise as an educator, gourmet cook and hostess with my expertise as a writer, A Taste of Shabbos with Rebbetzin Esther Winner, the video, was born.
As we developed the format, the original concept grew and it became more than just a cooking video. So along with the fifteen recipes which included a six-braided challah, baked salmon a la Seabreeze and a chocolate cornucopia filled with rugelach, Esther explained the traditions that are so meaningful to the entire Shabbos experience. We also celebrated the sights and sounds of our hometown, Brooklyn, filming on location in Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Williamsburg and Crown Heights.
Shortly after the video was released in 1994, I was contacted by the Joint Distribution Committee, who ordered a copy for their Jewish Cultural Center in Warsaw. My journey had come full circle. More than fifty years after my parents were forced to flee Poland, their daughter brought a taste of Shabbos back to the home of her ancestors.
The video eventually begat a motivational seminar, Life Is Like a Block of Chocolate, which took us on the road and brought us into the homes and synagogues of women who represented the diversity of contemporary Jewish life.
As we traveled from Maine to Florida and New Jersey to California we heard from a new generation of women who were eager to reconnect with their roots. After discussing the unique role of today's modern Jewish woman both in the home and in the workplace Esther, aka the kosher Martha Stewart, presented a hands-on cooking demonstration of a recipe from our video and I shared the personal story of how I came to embrace Shabbos.
When I first decided to make myself "Shabbosdik" I was thinking, who wouldn't want a day off from shopping and cooking and cleaning and writing and chauffeuring the kids around and answering the ever-ringing telephone, especially the cell. I became Shabbosdik by doing nothing. I didn't have to change my diet. I didn't have to change the way I dressed. I didn't have to change the way I wore my hair. On Shabbos, all I had to do was nothing. A day about nothing. Sounds like a Seinfeld episode, but once your mind becomes Shabbosdik your heart and your soul follow. Shabbos was the beginning of the rest of my life.
Reprinted with permission from Mrs. Schwimmer's newly published book Like The Stars of The Heavens.
Reflections of Redemption
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that everything we do must be permeated with the realization that the long-awaited Messianic Era is imminent. The essays in the newly published Reflections of Redemption, based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, highlight an aspect of the element of Moshiach in each Torah portion. By Rabbi Dovid Y. B. Kaufman, published by Vaad L'Hafotzos Sichos.
Going Kosher in 30 Days
Today, more than 100,000 food products are kosher certified, with the average supermarket carrying nearly 25,000 kosher items. Learn what others have discovered. Keeping kosher is an extraordinary experience with countless physical and spiritual rewards. Set your own pace, advancing through Going Kosher in 30 Days one day at a time. You'll learn everything you need to know, from the early origins of kosher law, to how to bring kosher practice into your daily life. This book contains everything you need to launch your own personal path to kosher observance. By Rabbi Zalman Goldstein, published by the Jewish Learning Group.
Freely translated and adapted
1 Sivan, 5712 
Greetings and Blessings!
I was very happy to receive your letter of 21 Iyar. I was already concerned that for a long time I had not heard about the health of yourself and your wife. Thank G-d, you are already walking outdoors and going to shul (synagogue), and as I understand from your letter, your wife's health is also far better than it was previously. Since even fleshly eyes can see that G-d has healed you and that your wife's health is also improving, one ought to be strong in one's trust that things will continue to improve more and more, until you yourself will also be happy.
It is disappointing and painful to encounter certain dispensable expressions in your letter. Why do you do this? - particularly in the case of a Jew who is a believer, who can even influence others by being weak in his trust in G-d. Firstly, using such expressions is damaging both spiritually and healthwise; and secondly, it weakens one's own will and desire to infuse others with liveliness and high spirits.
I hope that by the time you receive my letter your mood will improve, and that you will make a point of heeding the directive of our holy Torah, to "serve G-d with joy." As is taught in our sacred books, one should - and one can - serve G-d not only through praying and studying Torah, but also while eating and drinking and the like, and by living joyfully. When a person does that, he observes that he is plainly and simply healthier and more optimistic, and he accomplishes far more for himself and for others.
Let me conclude with the wish that your attribute of bitachon (trust) will be fortified, the earlier the better, and that you will have a Shavuos festival of tranquility and joy, which you will then extend throughout the entire year.
2 Sivan, 5712 
Greetings and Blessings!
Your letters of 9/4 and 2/5 reached me after having been delayed on their way here, and I was very happy to read that your wife's confinement went well and that she gave birth to a son who is named.
May G-d grant that you, together with your wife, should raise him and your older son to the study of Torah, to the marriage canopy, and to the practice of good deeds, and may you be granted an ample livelihood.
Your letter mentions your anxiety about your income. You ought to keep in mind something that is written in the holy books - that when a son is born, this is an auspicious sign of blessing in the household. That includes one's livelihood. In order to accelerate this, one needs to be strong in one's trust in G-d, for it is He Who "provides nourishment and sustenance for all," and seeks to do so "from His full hand."
Another thing to keep in mind is that one has to fashion vessels that will contain G-d's blessings. In general terms, this means studying Torah and observing the mitzvos (commandments); in particular, it means contributing tzedaka (charity). If a person thinks that his livelihood is meager, he should donate more than previously. In that way he shows G-d that his charitable needs are greater [than heretofore], and as a matter of course He will then provide a greater income than heretofore.
May G-d grant that you and your wife both be firm in your trust, and that you will soon see the fulfillment of G-d's blessing for an ample livelihood.
With blessings for sound health for yourself and your wife and children, and for a happy Shavuos festival,
From In Good Hands, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, published by Sichos In English
Why do we say blessings on everything we eat?
When we recite a blessing we are expressing our gratitude to G-d for our sustenance. Saying a blessing transforms a commonplace activity into a holy act. Chasidic teachings explain that all food contains a G-dly spark of holiness. When we make a blessing before eating, we elevate the physical substance of the food into holiness and reunite the holy spark with its source.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Thursday, the 20th of Cheshvan, is the birthday of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (1860-1920), the fifth Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe.
A beautiful story is told about an important lesson that Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber (known as the "Rebbe Rashab") taught his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, who was later to become his successor.
Once, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak set out on a journey, the Rebbe Rashab asked him to try to do a certain favor for one of the chasidim, a businessman, who was in need of help.
When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak returned he told his father: "I did everything you told me to do, and the favor to that man I did meticulously."
"You err," said the Rebbe Rashab. "You did a favor to yourself, not to him. G-d did a favor to him, by arranging for an emissary, such as yourself, through whom the will of Divine Providence could be realized."
The Rebbe Rashab was teaching us a lesson that permeates the whole of Judaism. When we do a mitzva, especially one which ostensibly allows us to help another person, we are G-d's emissaries. And, more than helping the other person we are, in essence, helping ourselves.
Tzedaka, charity, is a prime example. When we give tzedaka it should be with the knowledge and understanding that G-d has bestowed upon us a privilege--the privilege to administer His money in a righteous manner. Certainly, this is the reason why our Sages teach, "More than charity does for the poor person, it does for the rich person."
This attitude can and should permeate all "favors" we do for others. In addition to being the correct attitude, it stops us from feeling self-righteous!
And when he saw them, he ran to meet them (Gen. 18:2)
"Receive every person with a cheerful countenance," declared Shammai, the great Torah Sage. Even if one bestows all the treasures in the world on another, if his face is angry, it is considered as if he gave him nothing. On the other hand, if a person greets his fellow in a friendly manner, even if he gives him nothing it is considered as if he gave him a great fortune.
"And he said, my L-rd, if I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away from your servant." (Gen. 18:3)
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 127a), Abraham was speaking to G-d and asked Him to wait until he brought the guests into his home; for the mitzva of welcoming guests and taking care of their needs is greater than kabalat penei haShechina - welcoming G-d.
G-d has made laughter for me; whoever hears it will laugh ("yitzchak") on my account (Gen. 21:6)
"Laughter" refers to the supreme delight that will be revealed to the righteous in the World to Come. The Hebrew name "Yitzchak" ("he will laugh") is in the future tense, alluding to the time when this will take place.
One day while Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was learning Torah with his students, a gentile entered the study hall and listened to the discussion that was taking place. His interest, however, was far from sincere. In fact, his only reason for coming was in order to glean some bits of Torah wisdom which he could then twist and use to the detriment of the Jewish people.
He understood Hebrew well, and stood quietly in the back, listening and waiting for just the right moment to spring. His plan was to put a question to Rabbi Yehoshua, and then use his own arguments to prove the rabbi wrong in front of his students. If he played his cards right, he might even succeed in sowing doubts in the minds of the young students and win them over to the ways of idolatry.
The moment came and the gentile confronted the sage. "I have a question for you. How is it that although you Jews sit all day and night and study your Torah, you still don't fulfill its precepts properly?"
Rabbi Yehoshua had seen these types before, and he turned to him with a calm demeanor and answered, "What exactly do you mean? What have you seen us do to cause you to think that we have transgressed the laws of our Torah?"
"It is not just to one particular law that I refer, but rather to the whole spirit of the Torah, for isn't it written in your Torah that 'the minority should follow the majority'? That seems to mean that if one holds a certain view while all of the others differ from him, he should follow the view of the majority. So why is it that there are many more idol-worshippers in the world than there are Jews, and yet you stubbornly insist upon following your own religion. So, you are transgressing your own laws by refusing to worship idols."
Rabbi Yehoshua had heard this foolish argument before, and he realized that the gentile had completely misunderstood the meaning of the verse he was quoting. The verse actually referred to decisions made by the Sanhedrin [the Supreme Court] while judging a case which demanded the death penalty. Then, only by a majority of two or more judges is it possible to decide for capital punishment.
Rabbi Yehoshua understood that the motives of the gentile were corrupt, and he decided not to explain the true meaning of the words to him. The idol-worshipper might distort his words and try to harm the Jews in some way. No, what he would do was to answer him in such a way that he would never try such a trick again.
Rabbi Yehoshua turned to the man and asked, "Do you have any sons?"
The man's expression changed in an instant from one of haughtiness to one of profound sadness. "How did you know? I have many sons, but they give me only trouble. Every night when the family sits down to dine, each of my sons blesses his own idol. Then the arguments begin. One son says that his idol is the true one, the next son screams, 'That's a lie - only mine is true!' And these arguments go on and on until everyone is too upset to eat. Sometimes, actual fist-fights break out and blood flows."
"How terrible!" said Rabbi Yehoshua. "I don't understand why you are unable to make peace between your children. Surely you must side with one or the other, and you can bring the others into agreement with you."
"That's not true at all! They are all mistaken; only my idol is the true one, and I can't convince them of it. There will never be peace in my home."
Rabbi Yehoshua faced the idol-worshipper and reprimanded him sharply, saying, "If you can't even make peace between your own children, how dare you come here with your phony questions!" The idol-worshipper turned on his heels and left, and was never seen there again.
Rabbi Yehoshua's students surrounded their teacher, praising him for his clever answer. "Master," they said, "it is explicitly written in the Torah in so many places that it is forbidden to worship idols. How could he have imagined that G-d would want us to follow a majority of idol-worshippers? But, tell, us, please, is his question mentioned anywhere in the Torah?"
Rabbi Yehoshua replied to them: "It may have seemed to you that I was just joking with that man, but that is not the case. My answer was serious. This man was suggesting that we must always follow the majority, even if they are evil, and that is why he asserts that we must worship idols, G-d forbid. But in truth, the gentiles are not a majority, for they are descended from Esau and have no unity amongst themselves. Since each of them has his own opinion, they consist of many individuals, rather than a unified group.
"The Jewish people, on the contrary, are descended from Jacob, and are united in service to G-d. The Torah refers to Esau, saying 'all the souls in his house' - souls in the plural, since they are divided in their opinions.
"Describing Jacob, it is written, 'all the people were seventy soul' - soul, in the singular, for all of them worshipped only the One G-d. From this we can see how exact are all the words of Torah. Nothing is extra, and each letter has deep meaning."
When Moshiach comes the entire world will bask in the revelation of the Divine Presence, which will cause an actual physical healing of the sick, just as G-d's appearance to Abraham healed him after his circumcision. "And G-d appeared to him in the grove of Mamrei, as he was sitting at the door of the tent in the heat of the day (Gen. 18:1) "In the heat of the day" refers to the saying of our Sages that in the World to Come, "G-d will remove the sun (symbolic of G-d) from its sheath, and the righteous (every single Jew) will be healed [by its warmth]."