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There's much that can be learned about a person from the moment that he or she walks through the door. In fact, how the person walks through the door, even how he opens and closes the door, can teach us a lot, as well.
What mood is the person in? If the door slams, we know the person's angry; when the door is shut cautiously, we know the person doesn't want to be noticed or heard; when the door opening is accompanied by a declaration of "I'm here," we know that the person is happy to be "here."
The same applies to the opening of doors in our lives as Jews. As we move around in our Jewish living and learning, we are figuratively speaking entering "new rooms." We have an opportunity to open new doors, to enter new spaces, to look around and feel the ambiance in a different setting.
How will we open doors to new Jewish experiences?
We can peek through the keyhole or we can boldly open the door and stride in confidently. We can be concerned that the squeaky hinge might disturb someone (a little WD40 anyone?) or we can brashly swing the door wide open, come what may.
It doesn't really matter what room we enter when we open the door. For every room can be a place where spiritual growth is nurtured and each space can offer opportunities to express ourselves Jewishly.
The kitchen door? Walk into a room that nourishes the body and soul with kosher food. Take in the tastes and aromas that remind you of special holiday delicacies or of your grandmother's cooking. And make sure to have a tzedaka (charity) box in the kitchen so that when you are enjoying G-d's bountiful blessings, you remember those less fortunate.
The den or family room door? Leave your tenseness and edginess (and your blackberry!) at the door, and spend quality-time with family and friends. Study some Torah together. Plan how you can help a fellow Jew. Empower yourself and others, to make a good resolution for the future.
The living room or library door? Fill your bookshelves with Jewish selections; Jewish bookstores and Jewish libraries have tens of thousands of books to choose from in English, Russian, Spanish, French and, of course, Hebrew.
The bedroom door? Pursue shalom bayit - peace in the home. And if you're married, learn about the laws of Jewish marriage and about how to add holiness to your relationship with your spouse.
Ultimately, it's all about opening doors, embracing new opportunities. Sometimes the doors are opened reluctantly, at other times eagerly. Sometimes doors are opened with joy, yet at other times they are opened angrily. There are times the doors are opened by others, or are "forced" open, and there are time when we are the sole door-opener. And sometimes, just sometimes, we open the door as if it's the most natural thing in the world.
May our opening of "Jewish" doors in our lives hasten the opening of the door to the long-awaited Redemption, the era of peace, prosperity, health and knowledge that we all truly desire.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Jacob sets out from Israel and journeys toward Charan. Reaching Mount Moriah, the place where the Holy Temple would one day stand, he decides to spend the night. "And he reached a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun had set."
Our Sages tell us that this was the first time in 14 years that Jacob had slept, having spent his nights as well as his days studying Torah with Shem and Eber.
This raises a very important question. Why, having not slept in such a long time, did Jacob choose the holiest site in the world to finally allow himself to sleep?
In order to understand, we need to examine the phenomenon of sleep and its spiritual significance.
Man's unique advantage over all other creatures is most openly expressed by his upright stature when he is awake. At such times, his head (representing the intellect), is clearly superior to his heart (representing the emotions). At the very bottom are his feet, symbolic of man's capability to perform concrete actions. However, when a person lies down to sleep, his head, heart and feet are all on the same level.
The upper body symbolizes man's spirituality; the lower part, his physical nature. When one is awake, the superior, spiritual component is dominant (and thus physically on a higher level); sleep, therefore, represents a great descent, for the spiritual and the physical are on the same level.
Paradoxically, the phenomenon of sleep also expresses a much higher concept, one which transcends the limitations of the physical world. For from G-d's perspective, there is no difference at all between the spiritual and physical realms; both are identical when compared with Him.
Thus, when Jacob went to sleep on the holiest site on earth, the place where the light of the Infinite G-d illuminates most strongly, the limitations of the physical world (and indeed, the concept of "higher" and "lower" realms), were negated entirely.
This, then, is the inner meaning of Jacob's decision to sleep when he reached the site of the Holy Temple.
This same theme is also expressed in his dream of "a ladder set upon earth, and its head reached the heavens" - linking and uniting both the physical and spiritual planes of existence.
The power to effect this connection was given to Jacob precisely during his journey to Charan, where he would marry and establish the Jewish people. For in truth, establishing a dwelling place for G-d in this physical world is the essence of the mission of the Jewish people, a mission that will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic era, "when all flesh shall see that the mouth of G-d has spoken."
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5752, Vol. I
Little Stevie Grows Up
by Steve Hyatt
As I walked up to the front of the Chabad House shul (synagogue) in Reno, Nevada, my mind drifted back to June of 1967. Back in the days of the Boston Celtics dynasty and the Beatles, I had been studying for months for my Bar Mitzva. But, despite my continuous effort to master the Hebrew, I was without a doubt the worst student in the history of my synagogue. My poor teacher Rabbi Lepidus made the decision to save me from embarrassment in front of friends and family and limited my participation to leading the Mincha (afternoon) service.
While the Mincha service takes less than 20 minutes, under my stewardship it took a mind-numbing 45 minutes. Terrified, humiliated and exhausted, I left the synaogue and vowed never ever to lead any sort of prayer service again. Of course, that pledge was made at the age of 13 and I had not yet met my first Chabad rabbi.
Fifteen years later, I was living in Palm Springs, California. It was in the hot, dry, desert community of Palm Springs that the seeds of my spiritual journey were planted. The "farmers" were the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries Rabbi Yonasan and Rebbetzin Sussy Denebeim.
Year after year I received invitations to Shabbat dinners. While I would accept an occasional invitation, I just wasn't into it, my spiritual "field" just wasn't ready yet.
In 1995 I moved to Wilmington, Delaware. Unbeknownst to me, Rabbi Denenbeim had handed the spiritual baton to the local Chabad rabbi, Chuni Vogel. Rabbi Vogel would call me and invite me to Shabbat dinner. In typical fashion I made up an excuse and politely declined.
Two years went by and one day, when I returned from a business trip, what I thought was a box of pizza was sitting on my desk. When I opened it I discovered the toastiest looking matza I'd seen in my life. It was a box of hand-baked "shmura" matza for Passover. Attached to the box was a note from the rabbi inviting me to join him for services on Passover.
A lot had changed over that two year period and something inside me said to call the rabbi. Following the instructions of that inner voice I picked up the phone and called the rabbi. That Friday I went to his home for Shabbat dinner and quite frankly, I never left. The spiritual field that had been fallow was now quite fertile. Every time the rabbi showed me something new, I wanted to know more. And in typical Chabad fashion he was ready to show me as much as I could handle.
Time went on and one day I found myself transferred to Portland, Oregon, where I met another Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm. A few years later, I moved to Reno and discovered Chabad of Northern Nevada and Rabbi Mendel and Rebbetzin Sara Cunin. I committed myself to the pursuit of learning how to read Hebrew well enough so I could keep up in the daily, Shabbat and holiday services. I dedicated a period of time each day to read part of the weekly Torah portion. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think about getting back up in front of a congregation and leading the services.
In my mind I was still little 13-year-old Stevie Hyatt who was traumatized at his Bar Mitzva. In my mind I was once again going to bumble my way through the prayer book, horribly embarrassing myself in front of friends and family. Of course that is not what Rabbi Cunin had in mind.
It was a typical Shabbat afternoon as my Dad and I walked down the mountain to attend services at Chabad of Northern Nevada. As Dad and I walked in, Rabbi Cunin was talking with a couple of our buddies when he turned to me and said, "Steve, Paul (the gentleman who usually leads the services) isn't here today. Why don't you take over for him?"
In one fell swoop I was 13 and terrified. Every fiber of my being screamed out "no"! But I heard myself saying, "Sure rabbi, no problem."
"Great," Rabbi Cunin said, "Let's get started."
I began a little shaky, picked up some steam during the Shema and then felt much more comfortable during the repetition of the "Amida" prayer. All the while a little voice inside was saying, "Little Stevie simply wasn't ready 40 years ago. It took a long time for his spiritual field to be nurtured and become fertile." In reality it took a whole team of "gardeners" to cultivate this fertile soil so the seeds of Torah could grow. But these Chabad "farmers," these wonderful rabbis and rebbetzins so love their fellow Jews that they are willing to patiently wait as long as necessary to see their fellow Jews grow and flourish in a safe, nurturing, nonjudgmental environment.
As I held the Torah in my arms and chanted the Shema, I couldn't help but thank and admire my team of rabbis and rebbetzins and wonder at their patience, love and commitment.
I'd be lying if I said it was "a piece of kugel," to lead the services that day, but it was much easier than I thought. At least this time I was fast enough so the rabbi could give his Shabbat sermon to the congregation. And if all of this wasn't enough, seven-year-old Rochel Cunin told my mother that I was "...pretty good, a little slow, but pretty good."
Armed with that knowledge I went home and started practicing for the next time business would take Paul out of town and Rabbi Cunin would ask me to help lead the services. As you read this I am working hard to improve my reading speed. I am bound and determined to hear Rochel Cunin say, "Good job Steve, much faster this time!"
It's All About You!
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12 Av, 5737 
I received some information about the relationship at home, but I do not know to what extent it reflects the actual situation. Hence I want to convey to you some thoughts in light of what the relationship should be according to the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] - the Jew's practical guide in life. If the relationship is, indeed, in keeping with it, the purpose of this letter will be to strengthen and deepen it, as there is always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvoth [commandments]. On the other hand, if it is not quite what it should be, I trust that, since the Torah is surely "a lamp unto your feet," you will bring it up to the desired level, and you will do it with joy and gladness of heart.
The central aspect in the manner of conducting a Jewish home and family life is that it has to be based on the way of the Torah, "whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." If this rule applies to all activities of a Jew, even outside the home, how much more so does it apply within the home itself!
Of course, since G-d has created human beings with minds and feelings of their own and these are not uniform in all people, peace and harmony can be achieved only on the basis of "give and take," that is, meeting each other half way. For a husband and wife to make concessions to each other is not, and should not be considered, a sacrifice, G-d forbid. On the contrary, this is what the Torah teaches and expects, for we are talking about concessions that do not involve compromise in regard to the fulfillment of mitzvoth, and both of you are of the same mind that the laws of the Shulchan Aruch must not be compromised.
Furthermore, to achieve true peace and harmony calls for making such concessions willingly and graciously - not grudgingly, as if it were a sacrifice, as mentioned above, but in the realization that it is for the benefit of one's self and one's partner in life, and for one's self perhaps even more, since it is made in fulfillment of G-d's Will. And if our Sages exhort every Jew "to receive every person with a friendly face," certainly it applies to one's wife or husband.
There are many sayings of our Sages, as well as those of our Rebbes, urging husband and wife always to discuss matters of mutual concern, and to give patient attention to the opinion of the other and then act in mutual agreement. It is also very desirable that they should have at least one regular study period in a section of Torah which is of interest to both, such as the weekly Torah portion, or a timely subject connected with a particular season or festival.
While the major obligation to study Torah is incumbent on men, it has been emphasized that women, too, have to fulfill the mitzvah [commandment] of Torah study in areas where they are directly involved, as explained in the laws of Torah study. All the more so in the present day and age when women have the possibility - hence the obligation - to do their share of spreading Judaism no less than men.
It may sometimes appear difficult for the husband to take time out from his preoccupations in order to discuss mutual problems with his wife, or study Torah with her, but he should not look at it as a sacrifice. On the contrary, he should do it eagerly in fulfillment of a most important mitzvah - sholom bayis - peace in the home. And if any mitzvah has to be carried out with joy, how much more so such a fundamental mitzvah.
Finally, I would like to add that of the mitzvah campaigns which have been emphasized in recent years, special attention has been focused on the mitzvah of ahavas Yisroel [the love of a fellow Jew], which embraces every Jew, even a stranger; how much more so a near and dear one.
I hope and pray that each of you will make every effort in the direction outlined above and will do so with real joy and gladness of heart, and may G-d grant that you should have true nachas [joy] - which is Torah nachas, from each other and jointly from your offspring, in happy circumstances materially and spiritually.
Why do we light a special candle on the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of a relative?
The basis for this custom is the verses from Proverbs, "The soul of a man is the lamp of G-d" and "For the commandment is a lamp and the law is light." Just as a flame always rises upward in an attempt to return to its source, so, too, does the Jewish soul attempt to reconnect with G-d through the performance of mitzvot (commandments). And ultimately when the soul leaves the body it does return to its Divine source.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Monday is the ninth of Kislev, the birthday and yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Dov Ber (known as the Miteler, or "middle" Rebbe), the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. Tuesday is the anniversary of the Miteler Rebbe's release from imprisonment on false charges by the Russian Czarist government.
The Miteler Rebbe was the embodiment of Chasidic philosophy. It was said about the Miteler Rebbe that if his veins were opened, it would not be blood that flowed out but Chasidic teachings.
The Miteler Rebbe expanded on the ideas expounded upon by his father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidism. Expand on it he truly did. His mind literally gushed forth the wellsprings of Chasidism like a rushing river. "When the Miteler Rebbe would deliver Chasidic discourses," explained his great-grandson, Rebbe Sholom Ber, "there was a perfect hush. Still he would intersperse the Chasidic teachings with 'Shah, shah.' This was to still the gushing of his mind."
When the Miteler Rebbe would write a Chasidic discourse, the ink wasn't even dry on one page before he started the next page. His thoughts flowed so quickly that he would often continue writing off of the page and onto his writing table!
When the Miteler Rebbe was imprisoned on false charges, the prison authorities agreed that 50 Chasidim could visit the Mitteler Rebbe on a regular basis so that he could teach Chasidism to them. The doctors of that time told the government authorities that just as a person needs food and water in order to stay alive the Miteler Rebbe needed to be able to share the brilliant Chasidic thoughts that were pouring from him in order to stay alive. Just as the prison was required to give food and water to a regular prisoner, they were required to allow the Miteler Rebbe to share Chasidut!
And he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head (Gen. 28:11)
Why didn't Jacob choose something softer to use as a pillow? Said he: "A stone of the Land of Israel is more precious than all the pillows and cushions I will ever use in the Diaspora."
Ufaratzta (you shall break through; spread out) to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south (Gen. 28:14)
At present, we must serve G-d in a manner of "ufaratzta," that is, without any restrictions or limitations. Thus we shall hasten the coming of Moshiach, of whom it is written in the Book of Micha, "The poretz (the one who breaks through, i.e., the one who clears all obstacles and barriers) is gone up before them."
(Living With Moshiach)
Surely G-d is present in this place, and I knew it not (Gen. 28:16)
How could Jacob not have known that G-d was present? We need to understand this statement in the context it was uttered. Jacob was coming directly from the Holy Land, where he had spent 14 years studying Torah with Shem and Eber. As a result, he had mistakenly concluded that a Jew can serve G-d only through Torah study. Now, however, he realized that a Jew can serve G-d even while he is sleeping, provided it is done for the sake of Heaven.
Lo, the day is yet long; it is not the time to gather the cattle (Gen. 29:7)
"The day is yet long" - the great and powerful Day of the L-rd is approaching; "it is not the time to gather the cattle" - there's no time to waste accumulating possessions in this temporal world, as every moment is precious.
Many years ago, after the rabbi of Tchentzikov had been married for eighteen years without having been blessed with children, he travelled to the Kozhnitzer Maggid to obtain the tzadik's (holy person's) blessing.
When the Kozhnitzer Maggid listened to the man's request he uttered a sigh from deep within his being. "The gates of heaven are closed to your petition!" he cried.
"No, no! Please, you must help me!" the man wept desperately.
"I cannot help you," said the Kozhnitzer. "But I will send you to someone else who will be able to help. You must go to a certain person who is called 'Shvartze Volf - Black Wolf,' and he will be the one to help."
"Yes, I know him," the rabbi said, "He lives in my village, and a more coarse, miserable person you could never find."
At first the Kozhnitzer Maggid did not respond. The rabbi realized that if the Kozhnitzer Maggid was sending him to Shvartze Volf, he must have a good reason.
The Kozhnitzer Maggid then quietly revealed, "Shvartze Volf is head of the 36 hidden saints whose merits sustain the world."
The rabbi sought out Shvartze Volf in the forest hut which was his home. Though cognizant of Shvartze Volf's true identity, the rabbi was still frightened to approach him.
He devised a ruse by which to gain admittance to his hut.
He would go into the forest just before Shabbat and when he found Shvartze Volf's house, would pretend that he had lost his way. He would beg to spend the holy Shabbat there, and under the circumstances, Black Wolf could hardly refuse a fellow Jew that favor.
Friday afternoon he set out and as planned reached Shvartze Volf's hut. He knocked on the door and the man's wife answered.
Her horrible appearance marked her as a true equal to her husband, for never had a more hideous and unpleasant woman been seen.
Nevertheless, the rabbi begged her to allow him to stay over Shabbat.
"Very well," she finally relented. "But if my husband finds you here, he'll tear you apart with his bare hands. You can't stay in here, but go into the stable if you want," she croaked.
Soon Shvartze Volf arrived home and entered the stable, his eyes blazing with hatred. "How dare you come here! If you set foot outside of this stable, I'll rip you apart with my bare hands!"
The frightened Jew shivered in his boots as he beheld the terrible visage of Shvartze Volf.
Suddenly the thought came to the rabbi that a tzadik is so pure that he acts as a mirror, reflecting the image of the person who is looking upon him.
Thus, what he saw in the appearance of Shvartze Volf was nothing more or less than a picture of his own spiritual impurity. With that, he searched into his soul, and prayed from the deepest part of his being. He poured out his soul and in those few moments returned wholeheartedly to his Maker. He felt himself suffused with a warm, peaceful feeling.
Suddenly he was shaken from his reverie by the unexpected sensation of a soft hand being laid on his shoulder. He looked up, not quite sure what he would see, a shiver of fear passing through him. There stood Shvartze Volf, but instead of his accustomed fierce exterior, he had a refined and peaceful visage.
The visitor was ushered into the hut, which no longer appeared rough and tumble-down, but warm and inviting. Shvartze Volf's wife entered with her children, and their appearance, too, was beautiful and serene.
Shvartze Volf turned to his guest and said in a quiet voice, "I know why you have come here. I know, I know. You and your wife will rejoice in the birth of a boy. But you must name him Schvartze Volf."
The rabbi wondered to himself, "How can I name my son after him? It is not our custom to name after the living," but he remained silent.
The following morning Shvartze Volf passed away.
After Shabbat, the rabbi of Tchentzikov returned home. In time, he revealed to his congregation the hidden identity of the hated Shvartze Volf.
True to his word, a baby boy was born and he was given the strange name "Shvartze Volf."
In the year 1945 Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust began streaming into the Land of Israel. When the Belzer Rebbe held his first Melave Malka (Saturday night meal taking leave of the Sabbath Queen) in the Holy Land many Chasidim came and introduced themselves to the Rebbe.
This story was one of those related at that first Melave Malka of the Belzer Rebbe.
And at that memorable occasion one man stood before the assembled and said, "My name is Shvartze Volf ben Chana, and I am a descendant of that child who is spoken about in the story."
Belief sometimes remains remote, instead of being integrated into the self. This is illustrated in the observation of our Sages that "a burglar ... calls out to G-d [to make his endeavors prosper!]." To be consistent, surely he should either steal or pray. But both?! Chasidism explains that his simultaneous self-contradiction doesn't mean that he doesn't believe: the problem is only that his belief remains distant and academic, instead of being integrated into his consciousness. Accordingly, in addition to believing in Moshiach, every Jew is obliged to await his imminent coming, in a manner that is internalized within himself.
(Sefer HaSichot 5749 - 1989)