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A peasant was once laboring in the field, harvesting his wheat. He proceeded with vigor, his sickle cutting through stalk after stalk of grain. A count driving by saw the grace and energy of his strokes and was struck by its beauty. "Can I hire you to work for me?" he asked the peasant.
"Thank you, but I have my own field," said the peasant.
"How much can you earn from the sale of your grain?" asked the count.
"Five hundred ruble."
"I will give you a thousand ruble if you work for me."
Unable to refuse the offer, the peasant agreed. He was to present himself at the palace with his sickle at ten o'clock on the following morning.
At ten, the peasant came to the palace and was ushered in to the count's drawing room. "Now cut wheat," the count said. "so I can watch your graceful movements."
"But there is no wheat," the peasant answered.
"So swing your sickle as if there were. I'll pay you the thousand ruble I promised you. Start cutting."
At first the peasant was amused. It was far easier to cut imaginary wheat in the palace than to sweat under the hot sun and cut real grain. But slowly, he began to tire. After an hour, he told the count that he wanted to quit. "Why?" asked the count.
The peasant had one simple answer: "When you don't see the fruits of your labor, you don't feel you're doing anything."
A sense of worthless effort is one of the hardest things to bear, something no amount of money can recompense.
We all have the potential for achievement, and a mission for which we were brought into being to fulfill. There is nothing more satisfying than working hard and seeing that mission blossom into fulfillment.
This week's Torah reading describes Abraham as being "old, advanced in years." The Midrash explains this repetitive language: often people function on a level of maturity far below their chronological age. What it says on the person's birth certificate is one thing, but the degree of intellectual and emotional development he shows may be something else entirely. Abraham, the Midrash teaches, grew as he aged. His personal and spiritual development went hand in hand with the passage of time.
Chasidism develops this concept further. Abraham "advanced" into "his years." He put himself into his days; each of his days was filled with a deepening of his connection to G-d.
To explain: Any one of us who has to take tests knows what it is to cram. You try to cover an entire course in two weeks. Or in business, you know the end of the month is coming and you try to push in a few more sales to improve the bottom line.
There is something unnatural in such an approach. Try cramming the growth cycle of a crop on a farm: not working for most of the season and then plowing, sowing, watering, and harvesting in a month. Wouldn't be very successful, would it?
Well neither - in the long term - is cramming for anything else. This applies spiritually, as well. Too often, we cram. What Abraham teaches us is to take each day one day at a time, and to live it to the ultimate. Not to have occasional spiritual highs, but to relate to G-d earnestly each day, to take that day seriously and use it in the fullest and most complete way possible.
Reprinted from Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.
In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac.
"And [Eliezer] departed, having all goodly things of his master in his hand." Our Sages explain that Abraham entrusted Eliezer with all of his substantial wealth in order to impress the family of the prospective bride and obtain their agreement to the match.
This in itself was an unusual occurrence. While it is not at all extraordinary for a father to share his riches with his children during his lifetime, why was it necessary for Abraham to put all of his wealth at Isaac's disposal?
Furthermore, Abraham was an extremely wealthy man; surely sending Eliezer on his mission with just a portion of his riches would have been enough to sufficiently impress Rebecca's family.
The answer lies in the fact that this was not to be just any marriage of two individuals. Rather, the union of Isaac and Rebecca was the first Jewish marriage after the mitzva of circumcision was given. Thus, their union represented the perpetuation of the Jewish people in holiness for all time.
By committing all of his wealth to this end, Abraham thus underscored the tremendous import and significance of this marriage. For not only were all his material assets involved; Abraham, the Patriarch of the Jewish people, invested his very essence in finding the ideal wife for his son.
Chasidut explains that the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca is symbolic of the union between the soul and the physical body.
Geographically, Isaac was in the holy land of Israel; moreover, he himself had acquired an additional measure of holiness when he demonstrated his willingness to be offered as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Rebecca, on the other hand, lived outside the boundaries of the Holy Land, and indeed spent the first three years of her life among evil people, as our Sages put it, "like a rose among thorns." Thus their marriage exemplified the very objective of the creation itself: the joining of the spiritual and physical realms, thereby transforming our material world into a dwelling for G-d.
It is for this reason that the Torah is so explicit and provides so many details about Eliezer's mission, for indeed, it is the mission of us all. In truth, G-d gives every Jew "all goodly things of his Master" to ensure our success.
Every subsequent generation represents another step toward our ultimate goal - the long-awaited Redemption. May we merit this immediately.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5752, Vol. I of the Rebbe
Hope and Prayer in the ICU
by Jeff Unger, MD
Carolyn Roller's life was being prolonged by a thin thread of spirituality linking her heart and soul with that of her only child, my wife Lisa.
Unfortunately, Carolyn was in the Intensive Care Unit, being monitored continuously by five nurses and two physicians who were so busy trying to stabilize her that a visit to her bedside was not a practical option.
Feeling Lisa's emotional pain, I called Rabbi Mendy Harlig in Las Vegas and Rabbi Shalom Harlig in Rancho Cucamonga. Both men immediately provided the spiritual and practical support we required so urgently. I asked them to please send one of the local Chabad rabbis as quickly as possible so that we could all pray for Carolyn. The events that followed opened the eyes of everyone who devote their lives to the art of healing, and were profoundly moving for those of us who love Carolyn so dearly.
You see, there are truly some things in medicine that go unexplained, things which cannot be addressed in a medical textbook or by asking a colleague for advice. We all know that death is part of life. What we don't know is when G-d determines to call each of us to His side. Until that moment comes, we must protect our bodies from harm and allow this G-d given gift to live on.
Carolyn was bleeding profusely. Her vital signs were unstable. She had become so acidotic that she was placed on dialysis. Her temperature was dropping. They had taken her to the operating room in the middle of the night and found that her internal bleeding had been so profound that they could only pack the abdomen with dry sponges and hope to return her to surgery later - assuming the bleeding stopped. Carolyn was placed on a ventilator. Her only chance of survival was a risky procedure in which the radiologist would attempt to locate a single arterial vessel which could be the primary source of the bleeding and then emobilize it. But if the bleeding was not isolated to a single vessel, she would die within hours. What made this procedure even more risky was Carolyn's dangerously low blood acid level. In fact, her blood pH was 6.9, which is essentially incompatible with life.
As Lisa and I pondered funeral arrangements, Rabbi Baitelman appeared. He'd been sent by our other rabbis to help comfort us during this emotional time. Rabbi Baitelman had never met us, yet he knew that we were Jewish, and that was all he had to know. Although I expressed doubt that Carolyn would survive, he was very optimistic. He said that we were approaching Shabbat, which was a very special time of the week, a time for which G-d saves many of His joyous and most important events. He pointed out that Shabbat is so special that we do not even wear Tefilin, and then guided me in putting on my own Tefilin before saying the Shema with us. Together we said the Psalm that is traditionally said in honor of those who are ill. The rabbi provided Lisa with some Shabbat candles and explained how, and when, to light them. He also invited us to services that evening.
My wife and I were very comforted by the rabbi's visit. We knew he would be praying for us, and that we could find him at any time if necessary.
Immediately after the rabbi left our side, the head trauma surgeon flagged us down and told us the first good news we had heard all day: "We were able to locate the site of bleeding and emobolize the vessel. This is certainly a positive step. Her condition could still worsen, but now she has a chance!"
I believe that this was certainly divine intervention, perhaps the result of the Tefilin. Maybe G-d was simply putting on a display of His awesome powers. As I looked outside, the sun had set. Shabbat had begun!
At that very moment, terror struck our hearts as we heard: "Code Blue BCU." We ran to investigate. Twenty nurses, doctors, and staffers were circling Carolyn's bed. Yes, she was the one who was dying.
Suddenly, I heard one of the nurses yell, "Get the chaplain!" Despite the commotion in the unit, I believe everyone heard my response from outside, "She has a rabbi." Within ten seconds, her heart began to beat spontaneously again. The entire Jewish faith was with her. Yes, Carolyn was struggling with death and she beat it again with Shabbat, Tefilin, rabbis, Judaism, family and faith. Once Carolyn was stabilized, Lisa and I walked over to the Chabad House for Shabbat services. As a group we recited the same Psalm for Carolyn. The rabbi suggested that Lisa place a small prayer book under her mother's pillow and that I say the Shema before leaving that night. He assured us that she would be safe.
I believe that these prayers at Chabad helped. We were informed shortly after the services ended that her bleeding had stopped, her temperature had risen, her acid level was normalizing, and her heart rate was stable. Everyone who was caring for her said that they had never seen anything like this before.
When we returned to Carolyn's bedside for the final time that night, I placed the prayer book near her head and said the Shema as directed. Lisa had an opportunity to say goodnight to her mother once again. Lisa felt as though her Mom could hear her words, but was not certain.
Roughly 30 minutes after placing the prayer book by Carolyn's head, we received a call from the Nurse in the ICU. "She just woke up," the nurse shouted, to me. "She opened her eyes. I asked her if she knew that her daughter and other family members had been here today and she shook her head yes. This is so exciting for all of us."
Turning around, I saw Lisa and our daughter Chelsea hugging each other. From the brink of death came the breath of life. To the rabbis, perhaps these are not unexpected events. But to physicians and nurses, they are true medical miracles. And to family members, these events allow yet another opportunity to live together as one while bearing true witness to the amazing powers of G-d.
Dr. Unger is an assistant professor of family medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He directs the Chino Medical Group Diabetes and Headache Centers and is the team physician for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He is the Editor-in-Chief of several medical journals directed towards primary care physicians. Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2007 edition of Farbrengen Magazine, published by Chabad of California.
New initiatives in the area of adult education are being spear-headed by Rabbi Mordy and Itty Feiner who have moved to Hallandale Beach, Florida as emissaries (shluchim) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Menachem and Esty Porter are enhancing the already strong Chabad-Lubavitch presence in Kiryat Arba-Hebron, Israel where they will be involved in adult education as well as children's programs. Rabbi Mendy and Chanie Yarmush are establishing a new Chabad Center in Wesley Chapel, Florida to serve the Jewish communities in East Pasco and New Tampa. Rabbi Shlomo and Nechama Rothstein are opening a new Chabad Student Center to serve students and faculty at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
18 Tamuz, 5714
...after a brief biographical outline of yourself, you present your problem, namely that you recently became aware of a feeling of apathy and indifference to the religious rites and practices, due to a perplexing doubt as to the authenticity of the Jewish tradition, by which you undoubtedly mean the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], and you wonder how their authenticity may logically be proved.
I hope this is indeed the only difficulty which has weakened your observance of the practical precepts in daily life; in most cases the true reason is the desire to make it easy for oneself and avoid a "burden"; one later seeks to justify this attitude on philosophical grounds. If this is the case the problem is more complicated. In the hope that you belong to the minority, I will briefly state here the logical basis of the Truth that the Torah and Mitzvoth were given to us Jews by Divine Revelation. This is not very difficult to prove, since the proof is the same as all other evidence that we have of historic events in past generations, only much more forcefully and convincingly. By way of illustration: if you are asked, how do you know that there existed such a person as Maimonides, whom you mention in your letter, you would surely reply that you are certain about his existence from the books he has written. Although Rambam (Maimonides) lived some 800 years ago, his works now in print have been reprinted from earlier editions, and those from earlier ones still, uninterruptedly, going back to the very manuscript which Rambam wrote in his own hand. This is considered sufficient proof even in the face of discrepancies or contradictions from one book of Rambam to another. Such contradictions do not demolish the above proof; rather, efforts are made to reconcile them, in the certainty that both have been written by the same author.
The same kind of proof substantiates any historic past, which we ourselves have to witness, and all normal people accept them without question, except those who for some reason are interested in falsification.
In many cases the authenticity of an historic event is based on the evidence of a limited group of people, where there is room to suspect that the witnesses were, perhaps, not quite disinterested. Nonetheless, because there is nothing to compel us to be suspicious, and especially if we can check the evidence and counter-check it, it is accepted as a fact.
From the above point of view, any doubts you many have about the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition should be quickly dispelled. Millions of Jews have always known and still know that G-d is the author of the Torah Shebiksav (written Torah) and the Torah shebe'al peh (oral tradition) which He gave to His people Israel not only to study but to observe in practice in daily life. The Alm-ghty made it a condition of the existence and welfare of our people as a whole, and of the true happiness of every individual member of our nation.
How do these millions of individuals know, and how did they know in the past, that the Torah is true? Simply because they have it on the evidence of their fathers, millions of Jews that preceded them, and these in turn from their fathers, and so on, uninterruptedly back to the millions of Jews (if we include women and children and those above and below the age range of the 600,000 male adults) who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Throughout all these generations, the very same content has been traditionally handed down, not by a single group, but by a people of many millions, of different mentalities, walks of life, interests, under the most varying circumstances, places and times, etc. etc. Such evidence cannot be disputed.
It is difficult, in the course of a letter, to elaborate, but I am sure that even the brief, above analysis should dispel any of your doubts (if indeed you have any serious doubts) as to the authenticity of our Tradition. I trust you will from now on not permit anything to weaken your observance of the Mitzvoth, whose very observance itself illumines the mind and soul more than any philosophic book can ever do. I shall be glad to hear good news from you, and I wish you success.
What is involved in the commandment of "visiting the sick"?
Visiting the sick, or "Bikur Cholim" in Hebrew, is one of the commandments for which the Talmud has set no limits. The Talmud states that by visiting a sick person one helps him to recover. One should cheer the sick person with pleasant conversation and good advice and helping them in any way possible. For the performance of this mitzva a person is rewarded in this world as well as in the World to Come.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we read of Sara's passing and Avraham's subsequent purchase of the Cave of Machpela as the place for her burial.
In addition to G-d's promise to Avraham that his descendants would eternally inherit the Land of Canaan (which included the land of the ten nations who lived there: Keini, Kenizi, Kadmoni, etc.) Avraham desired to actually purchase outright a portion of the land. The opportunity presented itself with Sara's passing when it was necessary to have a proper burial place for her.
Avraham knew that the Cave of Machpela, located in Hebron, was the place where Adam and Chava had been buried, and chose to purchase the field in which that cave was located for his family.
Avraham's purchase of the field containing the Cave of Machpelah represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews.
Our commentators explain that with the 400 silver shekels that Avraham paid, he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of the Jewish people.
May we very soon merit not only the beginning of the Redemption of the Jewish people but the complete Redemption, when the entire Land of Israel will be in the possession of its rightful heirs - according to G-d and the Torah - in the Messianic Era.
And Abraham was old, well on in days... (Gen. 24:1)
In Hebrew, the phrase "well on in days" is "ba bayamim" - literally, "he had come with his days." Abraham's life was full, and he used every day to the fullest not wasting even one day. A hint as to how we can achieve this ourselves is found in the word "bayamim" - "ba" and "yamim." "Ba" is the Hebrew letter beit which has the numerical value of two; "yamim" means "days." Abraham always had two days in his mind - the day of birth and the day of death. To utilize every day to its fullest we must keep in mind why we are born and that we will ultimately be accountable for our deeds after we die.
...G-d had blessed Abraham in all things. (Gen. 24:1)
There are those righteous people whose main goal in life is to be whole and one with G-d. But this is not the way of the true tzadik. Indeed, the way of Abraham was to concern himself with "all things." He did not worry just about himself, but about others as well. And so he was blessed in a like manner.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev)
And Isaac brought her into his mother Sara's tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her. (Gen. 24:67)
Rashi comments: "That is to say, 'He brought her into the tent and, behold, she was like Sara, his mother.' While Sara was alive her Shabbat lights miraculously burned from one Friday to the next..." This same phenomenon happened with Rebecca's Shabbat lights. Rebecca was a minor when she married Isaac. She was thus not obligated to light the candles, especially as Abraham had been doing it since Sara's death. However, Rebecca was not satisfied participating in the candle-lighting of Abraham. She herself lit the candles. This is a clear indication to us that before marriage, and even before bat mitzva - from the age of three - Jewish girls should light their own Shabbat candle.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov came to a small town to spend the holy Shabbat there. On his usual visits there, it was his habit to stay in the home of a wealthy householder who prized the honor of hosting the tzadik (holy man). This time, to the consternation of all, the Baal Shem Tov announced that he would be spending the entire Shabbat in the synagogue.
When he arrived in the synagogue, the Baal Shem Tov prayed at great length, all the while weeping copious tears. The whole congregation joined him in the emotional prayers, and they wept too, although they didn't know the reason for their tears.
The Baal Shem Tov recited Psalms and enjoined the others to do the same. And when the services came to an end, he sent the congregants home to enjoy their Shabbat meal, instructing them to return and continue reciting Psalms.
The next morning, the Baal Shem Tov followed his usual custom and immersed himself before prayer. When he returned to the shul, he announced in a hearty voice that he would be joining his usual host for the Shabbat meal. The people were relieved, and a large crowd gathered at the wealthy man's home, hoping to understand the meaning of the day's events.
The Baal Shem Tov sat at the table in a happy mood, singing one Shabbat melody after another. Suddenly a gentile walked into the room. The Baal Shem Tov beckoned to the Russian to enter and join him at the table.
"Offer him some liquor," the Baal Shem Tov cried, and suddenly glasses and bottles appeared in front of them. The Russian was pleased to down one glass after another, and soon he was quite tipsy. Then the Baal shem tov asked him, "Well, now, tell me what happened over there."
"Last night, the poritz (wealthy non-Jewish landowner) called in all his local fellows. He was very angry at the Jews for not buying his grains, and ruining his income. He had to put all his merchandise into storage and he lost a fortune when it began to rot. So, he decided to get them back, those Jews. All the local fellows gathered at the poritz's manor and got good and drunk, while the poritz incited them against the Jews. They were told that tonight was the night to attack the Jews - not only in town, but wherever they could be found. Whatever they could grab would be theirs.
"All of a sudden a man walked into the house, and the poritz stood up to greet him. They embraced like long-lost brothers and went into another room where they stayed for a few hours, while the crowd of hooligans drank more and more. It turns out that the visitor was none other than the poritz's best school chum, whom he hadn't seen in a dozen years. They sat together talking and reminiscing, and in the course of their conversation, the poritz told his friend about his plan to punish the Jews for destroying his business. 'How can you think such a crazy thing?' asked the friend. 'Can't you see that you're being led around by the nose by the enemies of the Jews?
" 'Listen to me: of all your local people, it's only the Jews you can really trust not to cheat you. Remember my old estate manager, Moshke? If not for him I would have been bankrupt more times than I care to count!' Their conversation continued in that vein, and when he came out of the room, the poritz had been completely convinced not to harm the Jews. In fact, he now felt that they were his best friends. Who could figure that one out? He paid off the drunken peasants and sent them on their way."
The Russian thanked the Baal Shem Tov for the fine liquor and left. Everyone in the room was perplexed and waited for an explanation.
The Baal Shem Tov was obviously pleased at what the gentile had told him, and he explained to the crowd, "I saw from Mezhibozh that there was a great danger hanging over this community and therefore I came to spend Shabbat here. As you know, the poritz had raised his grain prices to the point that no one wanted to buy from him. As a consequence, he suffered a tremendous loss, and the local priest and his cronies took the opportunity to slander the Jews.
The poritz was convinced that the Jews were conspiring against him, and he devised a plan to destroy them. I knew that there was only one person who could persuade him otherwise, and that was his old friend. The only problem was that he had passed away some years ago. I was forced to bring him back into this world to avert this terrible tragedy. Thank G-d, I had success.
The people now understood the heartfelt prayer and the night of reciting Psalms. They were both shocked relieved at what the Baal Shem Tov had related to them. Then, one of them turned to the Baal Shem Tov and asked, "One thing I don't understand: Why did you have to come to our town to accomplish the miracle? Surely you could have done it from Mezhibozh and spared yourself the journey."
The Baal Shem Tov nodded in the affirmative. But then he went on to explain that if, G-d forbid, his intervention had not been successful, he had desired to be together with his fellow Jews in the time of their great ordeal. The people saw the depth of the love the Baal shem tov had for them and the extent of self-sacrifice that the tzadik of the generation has for every Jew.
When Isaac took Rebecca as a wife, the Torah records that he took her "into the tent" - ha'ohelah. The word "ha'ohelah is written eight times in the Torah. These eight times allude to the eight places where the Divine Presence was destined to rest among the Jewish people. The eighth place will be the Third Holy Temple that will be built in the days of Moshiach.