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Did you ever see those motivational posters that have awesome photographs of mountains, sunsets, trees, water or other magnificent examples of nature, together with encouraging or inspiring thoughts? One such reflection reads: "Soar with the eagles."
Someone with a great sense of humor got hold of that saying and came up with one which reads: "It's hard to soar with the eagles when you're oon the ground with the turkeys."
An apt Jewish teaching on the subject of soaring with eagles when you're around turkeys is recorded in the Mishna (Ethics 2:5): Hillel used to say... "In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person."
According to Judaism, being around a bunch of turkeys is no excuse for lowering yourself to their level and behaving like them. Even when you are in a place where people aren't acting as they should, or where people are so undignified, uneducated, unsophisticated (add your own adjectives here) that you would call them "turkeys" rather than "people," you must try to act appropriately.
The company we keep can impact on our behaviour, productivity and overall "mentschness." There are many other influences in our live, as well.
Open a newspaper or magazine and you're sure to find an article based on yet another study of how the food we eat, the environment in which we live, even the thoughts we think, affect us.
Open any Torah book and you'll find the same conclusions. But the author's conclusions will be based on Jewish teachings that date back all the way to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago.
In the tractate which contains the Mishna quoted above, there are suggestions as to what kind of company one should keep outside of one's home and who should be invited into one's home, guidelines for the neighborhood in which one should live, how to interact with friends or adversaries at high-stress moments, even some thoughts on dinner-table talk.
We alone choose for ourselves whether we will soar with the eagles or gobble, gobble, gobble through our days with the turkeys.
Our prophets foretell the time when we will soar "on the wings of eagles" to the Holy Land and the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It is especially important in these days, when this long-awaited era of world (and personal) peace, prosperity, knowledge and holiness, is so imminent, that we avail ourselves of the Torah's advice.
Visit your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, your nearest Jewish bookstore or chabad.org for additional Torah learning.
This week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, narrates Jacob's victorious struggle with the angel and the subsequent changing of his name to Israel. "Not Jacob shall your name any more be called, but Israel, for you have striven with G-d and with men, and prevailed."
The names "Jacob" and "Israel" are used to refer to the entire Jewish people; each of the two terms emphasizes a particular characteristic of the Jewish nation. According to Chasidic philosophy, "Jacob" and "Israel" symbolize two levels in the Jew's relationship with G-d.
Jews are referred to as both servants of G-d and as G-d's children. As servants, they are called "Jacob" - "Hearken unto Me, Jacob my servant." As children, they are called "Israel" - "My son, My firstborn, Israel."
The difference between a servant and a son is obvious. When a son fulfills his father's wishes, he does so happily and out of love. A servant, however, is not necessarily overjoyed at the opportunity to carry out his master's command, quite frequently doing so only because he has no choice in the matter.
Both situations apply to our own lives, in our own personal service of G-d. A Jew can pray, learn Torah, observe the mitzvot and serve his Father like a son, or he can perform the very same actions without joy, like a servant serves his Master. When a Jew stands on the level of "Israel," he willingly fulfills his Father's commands, experiencing no inner conflict with the Evil Inclination. When, however, a Jew is on the level of "Jacob," it means he is forced to grapple with the Evil Inclination in order to properly fulfill his Master's command, quite frequently doing so only out of a sense of obligation and submission.
Obviously, the level of "Israel" is the one toward which we all strive, yet one cannot reach this level without first passing through the level of "Jacob." If a Jew is not always enthusiastic in his service, sometimes finding it difficult to serve G-d properly, he should know that this is only natural when one embarks upon a new course. The Evil Inclination is not vanquished all at once, and it takes time to transform the will of G-d into one's own personal will. At first (and this stage may last for years!), the Evil Inclination howls in protest, attempting to divert the Jew. But when a Jew consistently stands up for what is right and refuses to despair, the Evil Inclination is eventually conquered.
This is also one reason why, even after Jacob received the name Israel, he is sometimes referred to in the Torah by his old name. For although the level of "Israel" is superior, the level of "Jacob" is nonetheless a necessary component in the spiritual life of the Jew.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Yeshiva Moment
by Dave Birk
It was during one of the last classes at the end of a long day in Mayanot yeshiva that Ari Dologowski walked in, put his stuff down, and introduced himself. Ari had come to the yeshiva from Colorado via New York. He is a professional soccer player who has been on the American circuit for 5 years. In addition, Ari is a musician. His favorite instrument being the mandolin (which he brought to yeshiva) but he is also very talented on the piano and the guitar.
Ari is an open person, so a few days after he arrived I found out about the first event in a series of events that opened him up to the idea of pursuing Jewish studies in a yeshiva in Jerusalem.
When Ari was in his early 20s, he and a good friend were sitting on the front porch of the friend's ranch looking out at the mountain view in Colorado. At that moment, they decided that going to college would be a good idea. So, they gathered their belongings and hired a moving van.
They had very little money but they felt that things would work out as soon as they found a place to stay. The moving van cost $200 a day, but they figured that it would take no more than 24 hours to drive down to the college campus, find a place to rent and dump their belongings.
They set out on their trip free spirits. The first day came and went with no suitable accommodations found. The second day came and went, as well. The third, fourth and fifth day, brought no better prospects. They were sleeping in the back of the van at night and living on very little food during the day. By the end of the fifth day, they were still homeless and nearly penniless. The back of the moving van had been converted into a small room with a couch set down by a table from which they had eaten and played cards.
By this time, Ari and his good friend, were feeling totally dejected and defeated. None of the experiences that they had shared throughout the years had left them feeling as hopeless as this. Ari's friend began to cry. Ari stared out the back of the van into the afternoon sunlit forest.
The two friends both agreed that this whole trip had been a mistake from the beginning. They decided to drive home the following morning after they went into the college to complain about the lack of accommodation around campus.
On the verge of crying himself, Ari decided to take a walk so as not to have the two best friends, sobbing in the back of a van in the middle of the forest. I mean, that would have really depressed things. So he left and began walking toward a nearby motel.
Thinking about what he had done with his life until then and how his desire to go to college had blown up in his face, together with the stress of uncertainty as to how to pay for the van and what to do with his life from here, Ari began to cry.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't realize that he was standing in the parking lot of the motel. He heard voices. He turned around to see two guys with black hats and beards. He had heard of Chasidim before but never seen any. He said "shalom" to them, kind of as a joke, and they returned the greeting. Then they asked him, "Are you Jewish?"
Ari was shocked. Jewish? He thought... "Yes!"
Before he could ask any more questions, they had ushered him into their room and slipped on a pair of tefilin. They helped him recite the blessing for putting on tefilin and then they helped him recite the Shema.
Unbeknownst to Ari, who perhaps thought that the chasidim were apparitions or even angels, the two young men were yeshiva students, part of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's "summer youth corps." Hundreds of pairs of Lubavitcher students travel each summer to small towns throughout the world, offering Jews an opportunity to reconnect with their roots.
After a brief discussion, Ari made his way back to the van by dusk and sat down completely bewildered. He tried to relate to his friend what had just happened.
By mid-morning the following day, Ari and his friend began the drive to the college to let off their frustration. As they approached the college entrance, a little old lady was tapping a small sign into the ground. The sign read "For Rent."
They stared blankly at each other. Time seemed to stand still. Ari pulled right up next to the lady in the driveway as she finished arranging the sign. They fumbled in the car for any loose change to show their willingness to rent and their mouths dropped open when they heard that the rent was only $300 a month. Not only this, but the woman had some paid handyman jobs to keep them busy right away.
After that, everything for the following three years fell into place. He made it immediately onto the college soccer team, which paid for his expenses and secured him a scholarship to take care of his sports management degree.
Now, as Ari sits in yeshiva, he looks back and considers that the "chance" meeting with the Lubavitchers in a motel parking lot might just have been the catalyst that turned his failed search into a successful find. Ultimately, he concedes, it was G-d's way of nudging him along the path to yeshiva.
With permission from chabadwa.org
The corps of emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe continues to grow on a weekly, almost daily basis. Five young couples recently accepted posts throughout the world, some establishing new centers, others bolstering the work of the Rebbe's emissaries currently in various locations. Rabbi Moshe and Rivky Greenwald have moved to Los Angeles, California, where they will be establishing a new Chabad House in downtown Los Angeles. Rabbi Levi and Dassy Tennenhaus recently moved to Hallandale, Florida. Rabbi Zalman and Chani Gansburg will be arriving soon in Palmetto Bay, Florida, where they will be establishing a new Chabad Center in that city. Rabbi Yisroel and Esty Simon will soon be relocating to Ottawa, Canada, where they will head the adult education activities for the Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi and Yuti Kantor recently moved to Lugano, Switzerland, where they will establish a new Chabad Center serving the Jewish community of the greater Ticino area.
Rabbi Yossi and Chana Atara Madvig have moved to Oswego, New York, where they have opened a new Chabad House serving the Jewish students and faculty at SUNY Oswego.
Excerpts from an Address to the Members of the Machne Israel Development Fund,
Adar 26, 5751 - 1991
Beginning One's Day with Thanks to G-d
"Modeh Ani - I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me."
With this declaration a Jew begins his day, and proceeds to amplify his gratitude in detail, as expressed in the morning blessings. Afterwards, and this is of fundamental importance, one joins in brotherly love with all fellow Jews.
Thus, whenever Jews meet, they traditionally greet each other with "Shalom Aleichem" ("peace to you"). Significantly, that greeting begins with Shalom, peace, because peace must be the first phase of any process.
The key to a person's success is inner peace. When a person is not disturbed by internal discord, and his disposition is characterized instead by harmonious calm, he is able to handle his life tasks with strength and success. And when one begins one's day in a harmonious frame of mind, it remains with him throughout the day.
This is reflected in a Jew's first act every day, as mentioned above, the recitation of Modeh Ani, the declaration with which every Jew - man, woman, and child - thanks G-d for returning his/her soul. In that declaration, we acknowledge that "You have mercifully restored my soul" - and G-d's mercies are great and abundant.
Growth Beyond Anticipation
In His great mercy, G-d gives a person abundant blessings, indeed, endowing him with manifold potentials, even those which he may not, at present, appreciate the necessity for. This is evident also in the business world. There are times when a person appears to have everything he needs, and yet he sees that G-d grants him the potential for greater expansion and success.
Although at times a person may not recognize this within his present time and place, a Jew is never bound by the limits of his immediate circumstances. For the essence of his being is his soul, which is "a part of G-d from above," transcending all limitations. A Jew is also above the limitations of time, i.e., the past and the present do not restrict his possibilities for the future. And that unlimited potential is enhanced when a person, instead of remaining content with an inert state of spiritual health, allows his inner Divine nature, which is constantly striving to ascend, to actively guide his daily conduct.
In particular, the above concepts are relevant to people of means, for G-d has endowed them with ample blessings. In this context, we can understand the statement of our Sages,"Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) would honor the wealthy." Why did Rebbe accord them special recognition? Being of independent means, he did not need to curry their favor. In his eyes, furthermore, a person's financial status obviously did not influence him, for his concern was the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments). Indeed, it was he who compiled the Mishnah as a legacy for all generations.
Nevertheless, he would "honor the wealthy," because G-d had granted them unique potentials to contribute to the world at large, to help people around them. And furthermore, to do so eagerly, and in a joyous spirit. This element is also significant for when help and tzedaka (charity) are given happily, the person who receives them is comfortable about accepting them, and this allows him to use them in a more productive manner.
Giving happily and with an open hand will never cause a person any loss, G-d forbid. On the contrary, using the prosperity one has been granted to help others will cause it to be enhanced and amplified. Thus, our Sages taught, "Tithe so that you will become wealthy."
Helping our Fellow Men
Tzedaka reflects the inner bond shared by all Jews. That bond should also be expressed in the manner the tzedaka is given. We should give as individuals, as families, as members of our community, and as members of the Jewish people as a whole. Similarly, our gifts should be directed to helping Jews as individuals, to helping communities, and to helping the entire Jewish people.
Gratitude for G-d's Blessings
Thanking G-d for the good He has granted us now, within the limits of exile, brings us ever closer to the greater and immeasurable good that will come in the era of Redemption. Then we will proceed "on the clouds of heaven," and we will be able to continue our coming together in the Land of Israel, in Jerusalem, and in the Holy Temple.
What is Birkat HaGomel?
A person who has safely returned from a hazardous voyage, recovered from a serious illness, or been released from unjust imprisonment, must offer thanks to G-d in the form of a benediction recited when the Torah is read publicly (Mondays, thursdays, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh [the new month], fast days and holidays). This benediction is called Birkat HaGomel.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is the 14th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the wedding anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rebbetzin. They were married in Warsaw, Poland, in 1928.
The Rebbe spoke numerous times about the sanctity of Jewish marriage and the importance of shalom bayit, which refers to a harmonious relationship between husband and wife. In our morning prayers, we say that there are certain things of which one reaps the benefits in this world and the remainder is left for him in the world to come.
One of those mitzvot (commandments) is bringing peace between a husband and wife. There are hundreds of letters from the Rebbe in response to questions about general or very particular problems in the area of shalom bayit.
(The Rebbe's advice will be beneficial not only in marriage but in other interpersonal relationships as well.)
An excerpt from one such letter (freely translated) reads:
"It is understood according to the ruling of our Rabbis of blessed memory, how great is peace between a man and his wife; you must put as much effort into this as possible... it is emphasized in the teachings of Chasidut and specifically in the well-known talk of my father-in-law, that a person is created with a right eye and a left eye. The right eye teaches that one must always look at another Jew with a good eye, to see what is best and most pleasant in him, etc. Being that we have been so commanded in our Torah, a Torah of life, certainly we have been given the capacity and the possibility to fulfill the command, and there is nothing that stands in the way of the will."
May we imminently begin that era when there will only be peace, peace in the world at large, peace in our communities, peace within our families, with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
When Esau my brother will meet you, and ask you saying: "Whose are you, and where are you going?" (Gen. 32:18)
Esau's question is remarkably similar to the Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers: "Reflect on three things...know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a future account and reckoning." Why would the evil Esau suddenly adopt the pious tone of the Mishna? Rather, this question - "Where are you going?" - may be asked by both the Good and the Evil Inclinations. When asked by the Good Inclination, it prevents the person from committing a sin. The Evil Inclination, however, poses the same question in its attempt to bring the individual to despair. In such a case, one must remember that the mere fact that one is a Jew causes unlimited joy and appreciation Above.
Because G-d has dealt graciously with me, and because I have all (Gen. 32:11)
This is a fundamental characteristic of the Jew, who is always content with his lot in life. Whatever he is given by G-d is exactly what he needs, no more and no less. This is why Jacob said, "I have all," whereas Esau declared, "I have enough."
I am not worthy of all the kindness...which You have shown to Your servant (Gen. 32:11)
And what is the greatest kindness of all? That You have made me Your servant!
Once a chasid travelled to the Miteler Rebbe with a dire problem. He was renting an inn from the local poretz (landowner), and was about to be evicted because he was unable to pay his debts. The poretz was unwilling to wait any longer, and the Jew was in danger not only of losing his livelihood, but his home as well.
The chasid entered the Rebbe's room for a private audience and told him the predicament. He requested that the Rebbe write a letter for him to a wealthy businessman named Moshe M. This man was a personal friend of the poretz and therefore a good potential intermediary.
The Rebbe agreed and wrote the letter for him. The chasid left in good humor, letter in hand, sure that his situation would shortly change. However, when he left the Rebbe and read the letter, he had a shock, for the letter was addressed to the wrong person. Instead of being addressed to the wealthy Moshe M., the letter was addressed to Moshe A. who was as poor as the chasid, himself. Oy, thought the chasid, the Rebbe must have made a mistake, for what could Moshe A. possibly do for me?
The chasid turned around and went right back to the Rebbe's residence and said to the Rebbe's attendant, "I must go back in to speak with the Rebbe. He gave me the letter, but he made a mistake in it, and I need him to change it."
"I'm sorry," replied the gabbai. "You cannot see the Rebbe again so soon. There are many others waiting to be received."
"But, you don't understand," the chasid protested. "This is a matter of the greatest importance, and it can't wait, even a day. I won't take much of his time. The Rebbe just has to change a few words. You see, he addressed it to the wrong person."
The conversation was overheard by the Rebbe's son, who turned and commented, "A Rebbe doesn't make mistakes."
Seeing he wasn't going to get anywhere with the gabbai, the chasid turned and left, meditating on the words he had just heard, "A Rebbe doesn't make mistakes." He took this to heart and resolved to go the next day to see Moshe A. and present him with the Rebbe's letter.
When he arrived at Moshe A.'s humble cottage he told him about his audience with the Rebbe and showed him the letter. Moshe A. was confounded by the request that he intercede. "I would be very glad to help you, but what can I possibly do? I have nothing whatsoever to do with the poretz." But the chasid, who had become convinced that the Rebbe must have had something in mind, was persistent. Finally, Moshe A. agreed, although, one couldn't say that he knew what he was agreeing to do. He arranged to set out the following morning to visit the poretz and try to help his fellow chasid, as it seemed that the Rebbe had requested him to do.
In the middle of the night there was a pounding on the door. Moshe A. roused himself and went to the door. "Who is there?" he asked.
"Open, please, it is I, the count," came the reply. Moshe A. opened the door, and to his astonishment, there stood the poretz, the very man he planned to visit the following day, soaked and shivering with cold.
"Please, come in Your Honor," he said, and within an hour the poretz had changed into dry clothing, eaten and drunk, and was feeling back to himself. He explained that he loved hunting, and that that evening he was deep in the forest when he had been caught in an unexpected storm. This house had been the first one he had encountered when he left the forest, and that is how he came to be the grateful guest of Moshe A.
Now, Moshe A. saw the Divine Providence in the unusual situation, and when they all went to bed for the night, he retired in a state of high anticipation as to how events would play themselves out. The next morning the poretz arose fit as before and readied himself to go home. Turning to his host, he said, "I am very grateful for everything you have done for me, and I would like to repay your kindness. What can I do for you."
Moshe A. answered, "Please, Sir, just having had the honor of helping you is all the payment I need."
The poretz wouldn't take no for an answer, and repeated his request to repay the Jew. When the offer was made a third time, Moshe spoke up: "Sir, I have a brother who rents one of the inns on Your Honor's property. Due to financial hardships of the past few years, he has been unable to pay his rent, and he is due to lose his lease on the inn. Might I ask Your Honor to reconsider his case?"
The poretz was immediately receptive to the request. "My friend, you are such a good fellow, I am sure that your brother is just like you. I will not only renew his lease, but I will also forgive his past rent. And you know, it is very lucky that you are speaking to me about it today. Why, I was planning to give the lease to the relative of a good friend of mine. My friend Moshe M. spoke to me recently about his relative that needed a position, and tomorrow I was planning to take care of the matter."
Later, when the two chasidim met, they discussed the workings of Divine Providence as foreseen by the Mitteler Rebbe. For had the letter been addressed to the "right" rather than the "wrong" Moshe, the situation would have come to a very different and unhappy end for the chasid. They saw that indeed, "A Rebbe doesn't make a mistake."
The rejoicing of a groom and bride is one of the greatest expressions of Jewish happiness. This rejoicing heralds and precipitates the ultimate rejoicing as expressed in the prophecy: "There will be heard ... in the cities of Judah and the outskirts of Jerusalem ... the sound of happiness and the sound of rejoicing ... the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride." Therefore, everyone, and particularly the members of the family, should participate in this celebration as a preparation for the "eternal rejoicing" that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.
(Hisvaaduyos 5744, Vol. III, p. 1,965)