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Cn u rd ths? Of course you can. Why? Because communication is redundant. In fact, without redundancy, we couldn't communicate. How so?
When we receive a message, our brains take the series of words and processes them; once processed, we understand the meaning of the message. But how do we know how to process, to uncode, the words or symbols and reconstruct them into something meaningful? How do we extract meaning from apparent nonsense, from what might be random symbols or noise?
Part of the process involves repetition and pattern recognition. An infant hears a lot of sounds, but after a while if the parents say "chair" and point to a chair, the child gets the idea.
Further, each language has its own set of rules, so that we can fill in the patterns and anticipate the meaning. Thus, in English "ch--r" can be "chair" or "cheer," but not "chykr" - not just because no such word exists, but also because that pattern doesn't fit the rules of English.
This is where redundancy comes in. Every sentence or message has extra clues that help us understand it even if it's garbled. If the phone has static, but you can still figure out what your partner's saying about the deal he just closed - it's because of the redundancy built into the language.
According to information theory, redundancy is a safety mechanism, to make sure messages get through even if they're damaged in transit. The safety mechanism consists of "patterns and structures and sets of rules" that build redundancy into language, and make sure communication occurs.
The concept of redundancy, the need to repeat information, for a message to contain extra bits or clues to get through, has a parallel in our efforts to communicate with G-d. After all, when it comes to prayer, one of the most frequent questions involves the supposed redundancy of prayer.
Why can't we pray only when we feel like it? Why do we have to use the words in the prayer book? Why can't we make up our own prayers? Why are the prayers always the same?
Now that we've begun to understand the role of redundancy in information theory, we can also begin to understand the answer to the typical questions about prayer.
Why can't we pray only when we feel like it? The answer is, of course, you can. And most of us do. "When the spirit moves us," we pray. But if we understand that we connect to and communicate with G-d through prayer, and that communication requires redundancy, and that redundancy requires rules and structures, well, then, we need to "follow the rules," to pray at the most effective time.
Why must we use the words in the prayer book? Why can't we make up our own prayers? Again, you can make up your own prayers. But the words in the prayer book, established by our Sages, are the most effective way of communicating with G-d. They contain the necessary information for us to make the connection and get our meaning across. After all, if you think there's static on a cell phone, that's nothing compared to the static across the "spiritual divide."
Why are the prayers always the same? The answer to this question, even more than the others, involves redundancy. It's the repetition that makes meaning. Repetition reveals the rules, and distinguishes between sounds that form a meaningful message and sounds that are just random, meaningless noise.
The "redundancy" of prayer thus does two things: it shows G-d that we mean what we say, and it allows us to say what we mean.
This week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, recounts the very first marriage in the Torah. Abraham sent Eliezer, his faithful servant, to his relatives in Mesopotamia, where Eliezer was destined to meet Rebecca, Isaac's intended.
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that Eliezer's actual journey was miraculous. "I have come today," Eliezer declared to Rebecca's father and brother, Betuel and Laban. "Today I set out, and today I arrived," comments Rashi, noting that Eliezer reached his destination - a journey of 17 days in ancient times - on the very day he embarked.
Why was it necessary for G-d to make a special miracle for Eliezer? Furthermore, why did Eliezer find it necessary to mention it to Betuel and Laban? Rebecca, matriarch of the Jewish people, is described in the Midrash as "a rose among the thorns." Righteous and pure, Rebecca lived the first few years of her life surrounded by "thorns," the wicked Betuel and Laban.
As anyone who has plucked a rose knows, it is not easy to free the rose from its prickly surroundings. Indeed, the thorns exist solely in the merit of the rose, for it is because of the rose that the gardener cultivates and nurtures the plant.
Similarly, the holy Zohar describes the spiritual struggle exerted by the forces of evil against the pure and G-dly soul of the Jew. For, like the thorns, these forces derive their sustenance precisely in the presence of the greatest holiness.
Betuel and Laban rightly understood that it was in Rebecca's merit that their household had been blessed, and were reluctant to allow her to leave. For the first three years of her life, too young to be successfully transplanted to the holy environment in which she belonged, Rebecca was surrounded by unholiness. On the very day she turned three, when - according to Jewish law she could be betrothed - Abraham sensed that the proper time had arrived to free the rose from its prickly environment.
Eliezer was dispatched without delay, and a miracle was wrought so that Rebecca would not have to spend even one extra moment in an improper atmosphere. Eliezer's task was to convince Betuel and Laban that G-d had destined Rebecca to be Isaac's wife, and that they had no power to prevent her departure.
"I have come today!" he declared, knowing that they would try to delay her leaving. "Destiny cannot wait! Today I have come, for I must bring her back with me at once!"
"The deeds of the fathers provide instruction for their sons," our Sages teach. From Eliezer's journey we learn that when the moment for Redemption arrives, it cannot be delayed for even one second. If need be, miracles will be wrought to ensure that the Redemption occurs at exactly the proper time.
We must therefore not be disheartened by the length of our present Exile, for just as the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt "on the selfsame day" when the exact moment for liberation arrived, the Final Redemption with Moshiach will likewise take place immediately and without delay at the proper time, speedily in our days.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. I
From the Mountain Top
by Helen Schwimmer
After immersing ourselves in 3000 years of Judaic teachings and breathing the rarified air of Jewish wisdom, they warned us it wasn't going to be easy to descend from the mountain. Who would want to? We were ensconced in the magnificent Canyon Resort in Park City, Utah, the home of this year's National Jewish Retreat where exceptional teachers like the keynote speaker, Rabbi Manis Friedman, literally kept us on the edge of our seats begging for more.
The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) provided a non-stop smorgasbord of Judaism, beginning with morning movement and meditation and ending with a midnight discussion, so that we were absorbing knowledge even as we barbecued, hiked and baked challah. We were mindful that we were pioneers exploring the exciting new frontier of transforming our modern Jewish life through Torah study in workshops on topics as diverse as medical utopias of the future, the parent/child dynamic, Talmudic ethics, the American Jewish experience, and a kabbalistic understanding of communication.
This enriched environment raised awareness of our communal responsibility as G-d's emissaries, his shluchim, who have been entrusted to share the Torah's guiding light with the entire world. After five stimulating days we reluctantly bid farewell to our mountaintop retreat and returned home determined to continue our journey.
Back on terra firma, I found the mainstream media abuzz with the latest groundbreaking scientific discovery, courtesy of Microsoft. A massive study of electronic communication concluded that any two people are separated by an average 6.6 degrees, which means that everyone is actually linked to everyone else in the world by just six people. For example, you are one degree from everyone you know, two degrees from everybody they know and so on.
Eric Horvitz, one of the Microsoft researchers who conducted the study, admitted that he was shocked by the scope of the findings. "What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity," he said, predicting that this knowledge could ultimately have a profound effect in the areas of politics, social interactions, disaster relief and missing person searches. He marveled that, "They could create large meshes of people who could be mobilized with the touch of a return key."
Hello? Thank you, science, for finally catching up to what the Jewish world has known since Abraham. Ultimately we're all connected - one people created by one G-d. But instead of being separated by six degrees, as anyone who has ever played Jewish geography can confirm, for us it's usually just two or three.
At the same time the Microsoft darlings were wowing the media with their research findings, my son Andrew and his wife Tzippi were reaching the same conclusions while they traveled through Europe. When they needed a Shabbat meal or lodging there was always a Jewish presence, "a large mesh of people" that were there for them, all emisarries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In Antwerp, Belgium it was Rabbi Shabtai and Richa Slavaticki; in Munich, Rabbi Yisroel and Chana Diskin; in Copenhagen, Rabbi Yitzchok and Rochel Lowenthal.
Long before the Internet united the world via pixels of light and the "touch of a return key," the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent out emissaries who dotted the globe with Chabad Houses. These human points of light have permeated not only the Jewish universe but have circumnavigated the globe with the moral teachings of our Torah, the ultimate "social connectivity constant for humanity."
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the writer and producer of the video, "A Taste of Shabbos with Rebbetzin Esther Winner." Her latest book, "Like The Stars of the Heavens," is an anthology of her articles originally published in The Jewish Press.
Bread and Fire
Bread and Fire, edited by Rivkah Slonim, is about the everyday lives of Jewish women and the struggles and aspirations, failings and triumphs of their spiritual endeavors. This book asks: What does it mean to be a Jewish woman today? What does Jewish tradition offer to modern women who are looking for practical ways to bring spirituality and meaning to their lives and the lives of their loved ones? The women whose writings appear in this book span a wide range of ages, backgrounds, perspectives and professions. In her own way, each one reveals G-d as an anchoring force in her life: from the birthing room to the boardroom, cleaning in the kitchen or scrubbing up for surgery. Urim Publications.
The Rabbi and the CEO
Leadership is in crisis - from business to government, leaders have lost their compass in the rough seas of a borderless economy, the Internet and turbulent markets. Virtually anyone can lead now. But how do you breed principled leaders for the 21st century? According to Rabbi Aron Leib Raskin and Dr. Thomas D. Zweifel, the answer comes from the 3,000-year-old tradition of Judaism. In a unique synergy, Zweifel, Swiss Consulting Group CEO, leadership professor and author of leadership books like Communicate or Die and Culture Clash, has teamed up with Rabbi Raskin, dynamic Jewish leader and author of Letters of Light, to blend the timeless wisdom of the Ten Commandments with a cutting-edge methodology based on 25 years of coaching leaders. Select Books.
Freely translated and adapted
6 Shevat, 5713 (1953)
Surely I need not draw your attention to the deeper meaning of the concept that the Jewish people are "the one nation on earth" - not only the simple meaning that Jews believe in one G-d and in one Torah, but that they draw down unity [("oneness")] into all aspects of this world.
This is to say that there is no disunity and plurality within this world at all: just as G-d is one with an utter and simple unity, so, too, is unity and singularity found within all worldly aspects, particularly since the physical and the spiritual are not separate entities, but are truly one. It's just that G-d allowed for the possibility [for man to believe the opposite of the truth] - as our Sages, of blessed memory, say: "Let he who desires to be mistaken come and be mistaken."
This is part of the mission of the Jew: that he himself understand and sense G-d's unity and make this aspect of Divine unity understood to those in his surroundings, and, to the greatest extent possible, to all those upon whom he has influence.
The same holds true with regard to one's health: When one needs to improve and increase his physical health and well-being, he should do so in conjunction with and with a concurrent and corresponding increase in his spiritual health and well-being - in the words of our Sages: "Whoever will increase, will see an increase."
In light of the above, I am taking the liberty to bring to your awareness that it would be beneficial for your father shlita to increase his study sessions in our Torah, the Torah of Life.
It is through Torah that "He has implanted in us eternal life." One of the meanings of this passage is that even though we live within this corporeal world, we live a true [eternal] life - something that should be felt within one's physical body as well.
This is also in keeping with the ruling of the Rambam in Hilchos Deos, the beginning of ch. 4, where he states that "maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of Divine service."
11 Marcheshvan, 5715 (1954)
... Of course one must obey the instructions of the doctor when he says that you must take care of your health, and indeed, this is the Torah command, "Scrupulously guard your health." However, when G-d inscribed this in His Torah, He concurrently wrote about the importance of performing deeds of righteousness and kindness (tzedakah v'chessed).
Surely, then, it is possible to act in this manner [of performing deeds of righteousness and kindness] where not only will this not harm your health, but on the contrary [it will improve it,] for the satisfaction and pleasure felt when doing a good deed strengthens and enhances [not only a Jew's spiritual health, but also] a Jew's physical health.
The same is true with regard to your situation [and your difficulties in speaking loudly]: even if you will not speak loudly, people will surely be able to hear what you are saying. ...
20th of Cheshvan, 5712 (1951)
I received your letter of November 12th in which you inform me that you expect to enter the hospital on Tuesday.
I pray and trust that everything will be well, and that you will soon be able to send me the joyous news about the birth of a child.
I would suggest that you have with you at the hospital a kosher mezuzah, which should be kept in an envelope within an envelope and wrapped in an oilcloth (or other waterproof cloth). Keep this as near to you as possible, viz., under your pillow or in the table by your bedside, until you leave the hospital.
... It would be a good thing if you would take upon yourself, jointly with your husband, to contribute (without making a vow) to kosher charities an amount equal to the cost of the delivery...
I wish you a good delivery and a normal and healthy offspring, and am looking forward to hearing good news of the happy event.
Reprinted from Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled and translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Why is the "bima," the elevated platform where the Torah is read, located in the center of the synagogue?
The bima is in the center for numerous reasons:
- It is symbolic of the altar which was in the center of the Holy Temple;
- Since it is primarily used for reading the Torah, its central location makes it easier for everyone to hear;
- The Holy Temple stood in the center of the universe to diffuse its spiritual light throughout the world. So, too, the bima where the Torah is read is in the center to convey that its teachings should radiate to the entire world;
- It reminds us of the encampment of the Jews in the desert, when the 12 Tribes formed a square around the Tabernacle;
- To indicate that the Torah belongs equally to all those present.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There is a widespread misconception that we should not demand or even ask for Moshiach. "When G-d is ready," some people erroneously posit, "He will send Moshiach without our demanding him."
The principle of asking for Moshiach is biblical and can be traced back to the times of our Prophets.
The great scholar, the Chatam Sofer, said that one must pray for Moshiach. In fact, we see this reflected in our prayers to the point where we actually ask for Moshiach 25,000 times each year!
The idea of actually demanding Moshiach - not just the more passive requesting, but actually demanding - did not, however, originate in the '70s, when the Rebbe encouraged young children the world over to make "We want Moshiach now" their theme song.
One of the greatest Jewish leaders of the previous generation, the Chafetz Chaim said that "We must demand Moshiach just as a worker demands his wages."
In our Prophets (Zecharia 1:12) we read, "O L-rd - Ad Matai - How long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah...."
Also, in the special prayer known as "Tikun Chatzot" said each night at midnight to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, we ask G-d how much longer - Ad Matai - six times.
We must remember, however, that our demand is not an ultimatum. We do not say to G-d, "Either you bring Moshiach or I will stop doing such and such a mitzva, or mitzvot all together." By demanding, we are showing G-d that we truly care that we, and the Divine Presence, are in exile.
And Abraham came to mourn for Sara (Gen. 23:2)
Abraham was coming from Mount Moriah, where he had just undergone the trial of the binding of Isaac. Abraham eulogized Sara by announcing that she did not voice any objection when he set out with her only son to offer him as a sacrifice. Sara, like all Jewish mothers who follow her, had instilled in her only son the desire to give up his life willingly for the sanctification of G-d's name.
And G-d blessed Abraham in all things (Gen. 24:1)
The blessings which G-d bestows can be divided into three categories: life, children, and livelihood. Abraham was blessed with all three. 1. "And Abraham was old" - indicates that he was blessed with long life. 2. "And G-d blessed Abraham" - indicates that he was a wealthy man. 3. "In all things" - this refers to the blessing of progeny, for in Hebrew, the sum of these letters is the same as the word for "son," indicating that Abraham was blessed with children as well.
Isaac brought her into his mother Sara's tent, and he married Rebecca (Gen. 24:67)
When Isaac took Rebecca as his wife, the Torah writes that he took her "ha'ohela - into the tent." "Ha'ohela" 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 seven places where the Divine Presence already rested were: the sanctuary in the desert; Gilgal; Shilo; Nov; Givon; the First Holy Temple; and the Second Holy Temple. The eighth place will be the Third Holy Temple which will be built in the Messianic Era.
(Baal HaTurim as quoted in Discover Moshiach)
The marriage took place amid great rejoicing, and the young couple were the picture of happiness. Yet, not long after they were married, the bride began to suspect that something was not right. Her husband would wake at midnight to recite the prayers in mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple. Every day at the crack of dawn, he would go to immerse himself in the mikva. And in addition to these strange practices, he had a certain book he loved to read which he kept hidden under his pillow.
The young bride, disquieted by her husband's unusual devotions, described them to her father, who decided to investigate personally. Entering the bedroom, he lifted up the pillow; the shock of his discovery was worse than anything he had imagined. His son-in-law was studying the book Toldot Yaakov Yosef written by one of the leaders of the Chasidim of the Baal Shem Tov!
The father-in-law was determined to dissuade the young man from pursuing this ruinous alliance with Chasidism. He tried every approach, but to no avail. Finally, when he saw that the young fellow couldn't be budged, the distraught father insisted on a divorce. But this extreme reaction was vetoed by both the husband and wife, who were, in all other respects, quite happy.
What could be done? At his wits end, the father sought advice from his friends in the small town, all confirmed opponents of the new "sect." The suggestions brought forth were many, but in the end there was more smoke than fire - the resolution to the problem eluded them all. The debate not only continued, but became, in fact, so bitter and angry, that news of it reached the ears of the governor of the region, a retired army officer. Curious about the cause of the great brouhaha, the governor's interest intensified when he heard that it was all because of a book. It was explained to him that the book in question was authored by one Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye, a man who led his co-religionists "astray" by his erroneous teachings. The governor went so far as to procure the said book and check the authorship, as this information was also printed in the Russian language. Having satisfied himself, he summoned the whole group of disputants and their fellow-travelers to appear before him.
"The time has come," he said, "for me to tell of events which took place one spring many years ago when I was serving as a colonel in the Polonnoye district. It happened that my unit had orders to move out, and so, the customary roll call was taken, only to discover that three soldiers were missing. I sent two others to the adjacent town to find them and bring them back. But they returned without their lost comrades, telling a most incredible story. The missing men were discovered inside the candle-lit home of an aged rabbi, standing like wax statues, unable to speak or move. I found it impossible to believe such a tale, so I dispatched another detail of men; but they returned with the same story. The only thing left to do was to go myself, and that is what I did.
"Entering the house, I saw an old man with the angelic appearance of a saint. When I dared, I addressed him, 'Forgive me for interrupting; I see you are a holy man. But these soldiers must leave with their unit today. Please allow them to leave your house.' The old rabbi replied, saying, that these men must have stolen something. If they replaced the items, they will be free to depart. Sure enough, we discovered all manner of silver vessels secreted in their greatcoats. We removed them and they were freed."
These events occurred on the first night of Passover at the home of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef. The roaming soldiers had entered the unlocked house, helped themselves to the remaining holiday food, and then also the silver vessels. They were undeterred by the presence of the old man who, in any case, seemed to be asleep. But when they tried to leave, they found themselves rooted to the floor and struck dumb.
The governor continued, "But when I saw this miracle, I requested from the rabbi his blessing for long life. When I asked him exactly how long I would live, he declined to say, replying that this is known only by G-d. All he would say is that a time would come when I would be required to relate this story to a group of Jews who did not know him. This would be a sign that my days were ending. Now, I see the truth of his words, but thanks to him, I have been able to bring this matter to a happy conclusion."
The young couple lived out their days in peace, and the governor was soon brought to his final rest.
After Sara's passing, Abraham married Ketura and they had six sons, all of whom grew up to be idol-worshippers. How could Abraham have had children who defied the most basic teaching that he had devoted his life to? Before the Redemption, it can happen that righteous people have some children who grow up to be righteous and others who grow up to be evil. But in the Days of Moshiach, all will be righteous, as it says (Isaiah 60:21), "They shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of my planting and the work of my hands in which I take pride."
(Bereshit Rabba quoted in Discover Moshiach)