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by Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov
The eighteenth century Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, was referred to by his colleagues and followers as the "Advocate of Israel." He was famed for constantly highlighting the positive in his fellow Jews, so that they find favor in G-d's eyes.
One morning during services, he noticed that someone had stepped out of the synagogue in middle of the "Shema." Peering out the window, the rabbi saw this individual, still decked out in his Tallit, greasing the wheels of his horse-drawn carriage.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak immediately raised his eyes towards heaven and called out, "Master of the Universe! How great are your children. Even while involved in extremely mundane tasks, they still make time for prayer!"
Indeed, a unique perspective on worshipping G-d.
The term "religious" is oftentimes used as reference to one who is firm in his or her beliefs. People who attend services regularly are considered to be more religious than those who aren't as frequent attendees.
According to Judaism, however, being religious means observing G-d's laws. We believe that G-d has given the Jewish people 613 commandments - mitzvot. Each mitzva provides us the opportunity to strengthen our bond with G-d.
Every mitzva is independent of the others, and with every mitzva performed - or transgression avoided - a link is added to our connection. The more we do, the stronger the bond.
At times, we may hesitate taking upon ourselves the observance of certain a mitzva. The reluctance usually stems from feelings of hypocrisy. For, how can I observe one mitzva while I disregard another?
A quote I am fond of repeating is "There are three types of Jews: Those who do mitzvot, those who do more mitzvot, and those who do even more mitzvot." Simply because you aren't prepared to make a life changing decision regarding some mitzvot, shouldn't preclude you from observing those you are able, and willing, to.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's comment regarding the individual greasing his wheels while praying was referring to precisely this scenario. The man's prayer was a step in the right direction. Had he thought himself a hypocrite, he would have sooner stopped praying rather than stop greasing.
By emphasizing the positive in this behavior, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was reminding us that we aren't at all perfect, and that every activity is judged by its own merit.
And the more we do, the better we off we are.
So, go ahead, be a hypocrite!
Rabbi Zalmanov is the co-director, with his wife, of Chabad of Northwest Indiana. To comment on this article visit chabadnwind.com
In this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, Jacob escapes from his deceitful father-in-law, Laban. "Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels." Surprisingly, Jacob attends to the needs of his children before ensuring the security of his wives. Later, when Jacob meets his brother Esau, his wives take precedence over the children. "And he took his two wives and his two concubines and his eleven sons."
The Torah demands that a husband puts his wife's welfare before his children, and he enjoined to honor his wife even more than himself. Without her, obviously, the children would never have been born. In addition, putting one's wife first sets a positive example for the children, who see their father treating their mother with respect. Why then, did Jacob tend to his sons before his wives in the first instance?
According to Rashi, the great Torah commentator, one characteristic of Esau was that he always "placed the females before the males." The end result, therefore, was that both Jacob and Esau put their wives before their children, but for reasons that were diametrically opposed.
Esau lived a life entirely dictated by his uncontrollable desires. Women were of great importance to Esau, but not because he sought to honor and respect them. His children were therefore of secondary importance.
To Jacob, however, his children represented the continuation of the Jewish people and their G-dly service. Jacob put his wives before his sons as an expression of respect for the woman's role and also to properly educate his children.
In general, the terms "male" and "female" are used as symbols for the intellect and the emotions. "Male" stands for hard logic, untempered by compassion, whereas "female" refers to the heart and the capacity for warmth. In his personal life, Jacob placed the "male" before the "female," that is, his emotions were ruled by his intellect and were not subject to his personal desires. Esau, on the other hand, was dominated by his desires, unable to control himself in the endless search for self-gratification. Esau employed his intellect only as far as it could further the fulfillment of his passions.
Yet, in certain instances, the heart has an advantage over the intellect, which may sometimes be overwhelmed by a difficult challenge. Man's intelligence is limited, but his emotions can reach beyond the limits of our understanding. Esau could have attained spiritual greatness, had he properly developed and utilized his superior emotional range.
In fact, when Moshiach comes, speedily in our day, the "heart" will be in ascendance over the "intellect," for the "female" quality of emotion will be fully revealed, taking precedence over the "male" quality of cold intellect.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
With Woman, With Life
by Tova Hinda Siegel
"Midwife" is a word in old German meaning "with woman." Historically, as well as today, it categorizes a specific profession in medicine.
As a midwife, I have certainly attended many births, guiding women through the intensity of labor and delivering their babies. As a midwife, I also provide medical care, as well as emotional support, during pregnancy and after the birth, often looking after the newborn as well. Outside of pregnancy, I take care of women and girls of all ages, providing for their various health care needs. In short, as a midwife, I have been "with woman" for the entirety of her life cycle.
In the last few years, however, I have become aware of a part of being "with woman" that was never covered in my medical training. I have become involved with performing Taharas for Jewish women in Los Angeles. A Tahara is the ritual of preparation of a Jewish person for burial. It consists of a specific set of actions, delineated by Torah law, that are performed by a group of women, if the person is female, and of men, if the person is male. These groups are often volunteers and are known by the title Chevra Kadisha, which means "holy friends." The service they perform is called chesed shel emet or the ultimate "true kindness" since this service is provided for those who can no longer say "thank you."
How, you may ask, can I compare Chevra Kadisha work with that of providing women's health care? An interesting question...And yet, I have experienced a reality which tells me that this last act of caring for women is a logical extension of the work I have been doing for so many years.
When a pregnant woman comes under my care, there is a sacred trust that exists between us. Implicit in this trust is my saying "I will be sensitive to you, to your needs. I will respect you and this new existence that you are creating. I will be there to help your transition from one state to another." I have always considered it a privilege, this work that I have been drawn to. I was blessed with blessings from the Lubavitcher Rebbe when I began the process which led to my present professional career.
Several years ago, I began to feel myself drawn to the idea of becoming part of the Chevra Kadisha. It took a while before I was able to begin the learning process and attend my first Tahara. By Divine Providence, I happened to ask a friend I knew had been doing Taharas for several years, to please call me the next time she goes. Her response was, "How about tonight?"
It somehow doesn't seem appropriate to use the term "excited" in reference to how I felt. However, there was definitely an eager anticipation. Other emotions, as well, remain in my memory when I think of that night: nervousness...how would I react?... what if I did something wrong?... I won't know what to do...As we were driving to the facility, I remembered that during my medical training I had the same concerns with my first birth. This was fascinating to me. What was the similarity? Why did I feel the same way?
Our team of three women consisted of my friend, who had a lot of experience, another woman whom I was meeting for the first time - who would be our leader, since she was the most experienced, and myself. We discussed what would most likely be the scenario and as I listened to these women speak, most of my trepidation and anxiety melted away. I knew that I was in good hands and I would be guided well.
We entered the room where we would be doing our work. We removed the sheets that had been covering the woman when she came from the hospital, at all times maintaining a respect for her modesty and dignity. I was reminded that when a woman is in labor, we likewise acknowledge the need for modesty and dignity. We behaved, as we began the Tahara, in a manner of great sensitivity and caring. And, I thought, when a woman comes to me for health care, my promise to her is, similarly, to treat her with sensitivity and caring. Talking was minimal, speaking only when necessary to give instructions or to lend clarity. The atmosphere in the room was one of deep consideration for this woman who was someone's wife, mother, daughter. Only actions necessary to accomplish the needed task were performed, always recognizing the need for and goal of minimal movement or disruption. There was a sense of depth, of spirituality and of connection, as we went through the ritual of the Tahara and recited the tefilot (prayers). It was impossible to not be impacted by this profound feeling.
When we finished our work, we asked forgiveness of this woman whom we had the privilege of assisting in her transition from one plane of existence to another. If we had done anything improper, some action not according to Jewish Law, if we had caused any distress or humiliation, if in any way we were remiss, we now asked that we be forgiven. At this last moment of being "with woman," I found myself also asking that she please be an advocate for all Jews and beg G-d to bring Moshiach.
We walked out into the night air, seeing a clear sky, and feeling a deep quiet. I examined my feelings and realized that I felt as if I had been at a birth. There was the same silence, the same respect, the same depth of feeling. The same sense of privilege and the same knowledge that I had been given a gift of witnessing the transition of the soul. I knew with a certainty of understanding why I had been drawn to participating in this extraordinary mitzva. Whatever it was that had propelled me to being "with woman" throughout their lives also drew me to being "with woman" as they leave this life. I felt that now I was truly a "midwife" in the fullest sense of the word.
Tova Hinda Siegel is a Certified Nurse Midwife. Among her 1000-plus births are several of her grandchildren. Recently she started the Lubavitch Women's Chevra Kadisha in LA.
Reprinted with permission from ...
Rabbi Levi and Hadasa Slonim recently moved to Binghamton, New York, where they will serve as programming and development directors for Chabad of Binghamton. Rabbi Chanania and Chani Zohar have arrived in Moscow, Russia, to be part of the faculty of the Lubavitcher yeshiva in that city. Rabbi Mendel and Devorah Leah Levin will be arriving soon in Nijmegen, Netherlands, to serve the local Jewish community as well as organizing educational programs for the neighboring cities. Rabbi Itche and Chana Itkin are establishing a new Chabad House to serve the needs of the Jewish community living and working in the midtown and downtown areas of Kansas City, Missouri.
... I duly received your letter in which you write about various things that you do not understand, such as the suffering of your father [during his illness]. Particularly, why should G-d make any good person suffer?
Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you at length the obvious idea, namely, that it is certainly not surprising that a human being does not understand the ways of G-d, for a created and finite being surely cannot understand the infinite.
The opposite [idea, i.e., that man understands the ways of G-d,] would be rather surprising, and it is only due to G-d's infinite kindness that He has revealed to man certain aspects of His Divine providence.
There is a simple illustration: It would surely not be surprising that a five-year-old child could not understand the conduct of a great scientist, even though the scientist was at one time a five-year-old boy, and the present five-year-old boy may grow up and become an even greater scientist.
In other words, the five-year-old boy is potentially in possession of all the qualities of the mature scientist, yet it would not be surprising that the five-year-old boy cannot understand the great scientist.
But a created human being has nothing in common with the Creator insofar as intelligence and capacities are concerned. It is only because of G-d's kindness that certain aspects of G-d's providence have been revealed to man, including as well the question of suffering, for with regard to suffering we can employ a similar analogy:
When a young child is told to sit down, learn the "ABC's," do homework, etc., this deprives him of going out into the fresh air, interferes sometimes with him having his meal on time, and might also curtail his sleeping hours, etc.
The child, while complying with these instructions, is not doing so because he realizes their wisdom, but because he has no choice in the matter, since he is compelled by his father or mother or teacher to do this. This is not a case where one takes away his freedom to keep him from breaking windows and the like, [in which case the child would more readily understand the reasons for these instructions].
As far as the child is concerned, for him it is true suffering to be deprived of fresh air, or rest, etc., which most agree are considered good things. Nevertheless, of what consideration is the child's temporary suffering, even though it may extend for days or even months, in comparison with the good that he will enjoy as a result for the rest of his life.
A further point to remember is this:
When a person who has been ill succumbs to his illness, it is clear to every normal person that the illness affected only the physical body.
Obviously if there is something wrong, say, with the blood of the patient, it cannot affect the patient's spiritual life and his everlasting soul.
In other words, when a patient succumbs to an illness, this only happens because the union between the soul and the body has come to an end, but the soul is an everlasting one. This is one of the basic foundations of our Jewish faith, as well as that of many other faiths.
It is frequently explained and emphasized in the Torah that life on this earth is only a preparation for the future and everlasting life in the World to Come.
This is also taught in the well-known Mishnah of Pirkei Avos, which we read and study during these Shabbasos: The Mishnah states, "This world is like a vestibule to the future world; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you can enter the banquet hall" (Avos 4:16).
Now, even if one was subjected to a period of suffering when he was in the vestibule, the fact that he will surely derive infinite gain in the "banquet hall" makes it unquestionably worthwhile.
It is impossible to describe the joys of the life of the soul in the World to Come, for even in this world - i.e., while the soul is connected to the body - the life of the soul is on an infinitely higher plane than the life of the body in which it is vested, and the body cannot possibly comprehend this form of life; how much more so when the soul is no longer distracted by the body.
Compare the vast gulf between the joy and excitement of a child when he receives a piece of tasty candy and the joy of a very wise and learned scientist who succeeds in resolving an important scientific problem. Here again, as mentioned before, there is some connection between the child and the scientist, and all these forms of joy are comparable.
But as far as life on this earth and the life of the soul in the future world is concerned, the differences between them are not of degree but of kind, and there is no common denominator between the two.
At the same time it should be remembered that the suffering in the "vestibule," which is no more than a corridor to the "banquet hall," is after all a temporary one, and the gain is eternal. ...
Reprinted from Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled and translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
What is the reason for dancing at a wedding?
Part of the mitzva of "making the groom and bride happy" is to entertain them with dancing. By dancing around the bride and groom, the community expresses its support for the couple. The Talmud relates many instances when the greatest of our Sages set aside their uninterrupted study of Torah for the sake of entertaining the couple. In accordance with Jewish law, men and women dance separately with a mechitza (partition) separating them.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbos is the ninth of Kislev, the birthday and yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber (known as the Mittler Rebbe), the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
In 1816, Reb Dov Ber established a settlement of Chabad chasidim in Israel in the city of Hebron. He encouraged the chasidim already living in other parts of Israel to resettle in Hebron. In addition, his own daughter and son-in-law moved with their family from Russia to Hebron.
But the history of Chabad-Lubavitch support of people, institutions and settlements in the Holy Land predates even 1816. For the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, vigorously encouraged his followers to support the Jews in the Holy Land.
Each and every Rebbe of Chabad, up to and including the present Rebbe, has unequivocally supported the Holy Land and spoken out boldly concerning anything that might have the slightest impact on the security of the Jews there.
Our brethren in Israel know first-hand about the Rebbe's concern for them and their lives. During the Gulf War the Rebbe's emphatic message that "Israel is the safest place in the world for G-d is constantly watching it" was continuously played on the radio. The hundreds of Chabad Centers that dot the Israeli landscape were deluged with callers during the Gulf War asking, "What is the Rebbe saying now?"
Without a doubt, and everyone can be sure of this, the Rebbe's policy has not changed one iota from that of his predecessors. Based on clear guidance from the Torah and Jewish law, the Rebbe reiterates: No action can be taken that might negatively affect the safety of the Jews of the Holy Land.
In the merit of Rabbi Dov Ber, who established the first Chabad settlement in the Holy Land, may we be privileged to go together with Moshiach to the Holy Land, NOW.
Whatever You will give me I will give a tenth to You (Gen. 28:22)
Queen Victoria of England once asked the famous Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore the extent of his wealth. "It will take me a few days to make an accounting," he replied. Several days later he gave her his answer. "You insult me," the Queen replied. "Everyone knows you are worth much more than that." "Not really," Sir Moses explained. "I consider as my wealth only that which I have given away to charity. Everything else I have is only temporary and may be confiscated or lost."
Fulfill the week of this, and we will give you this one too (Gen. 29:27)
Our Patriarchs observed the entire Torah, even before it was given, as an extra measure of devotion to G-d. How then, could Jacob have married two sisters, something which was later prohibited? If a mitzva (commandment) that they were not yet required to observe conflicted with precepts they had explicitly been told by G-d to observe, they did not observe the mitzva that had not been commanded. Jacob had already promised Rachel that he would marry her. Failure to do so would constitute grave deceit. Therefore, although he was already married to Leah, Jacob was not allowed to observe the future law of not marrying two sisters, and was required to fulfill his promise and marry Rachel.
(A Thought For The Week)
Leah... called his name Reuven, for she said: Surely, G-d has looked at my affliction, because now my husband will love me (Gen. 29:32)
Mystical teachings compare the relationship between G-d and Israel to that of a husband and wife. In the time of exile, the "wife" suffers from spiritual poverty and deprivation. The love between the Jewish people and G-d is not fully expressed in the open. But, when G-d sees that Jews continue to keep the commandments in spite of affliction, His love for them is fully restored, a love that will ultimately be manifested through the full and speedy Redemption.
(Likutei Sichot Vol. XXII)
Reb Mordechai Liepler's son fell seriously ill and the doctors were not encouraging. "A virus appears to have infected his bone marrow and his bones are withering away," they diagnosed. "We know of no cure."
Reb Mordechai immediately dispatched a letter to the Mittler Rebbe explaining the desperate situation. He calculated that it would take five days for the letter to get to Lubavitch, and five days for the Rebbe's answer to return. Thus, he expected to receive an answer in ten days.
Ten days were up and Reb Mordechai stood outside waiting impatiently for the postman.
"Sorry, nothing for you today," called the postman as he passed by, shaking his head. Reb Mordechai met with the same disappointment on the following day as well.
However, on the third day, the postman had some news. "Yes, I have a letter for you, but I am in a terrible rush today and don't have time to look for it," he called hurrying on.
Reb Mordechai ran after him, pulled at his bag and searched frantically for the long-awaited letter.
"What's your rush today?" he asked as he fumbled through the envelopes.
"One of the Czar's relatives living in our district fell ill and a royal physician was summoned all the way from Austria. Today, he is scheduled to return to Vienna and it is my duty to arrange a carriage for his journey," explained the postman.
Just then, Reb Mordechai found the letter and opened it quickly as the postman busied himself straightening out his bag.
"I received your letter," the note from the Mittler Rebbe stated. "I see that help will come to you from far and near." Added on the bottom of the letter was a note of advice. "Do not stint on money."
The information I just received from the postman may be that very assistance the Rebbe foresaw, thought Reb Mordechai. "Where is that doctor now?" he asked the postman.
Upon receiving the address, Reb Mordechai set out immediately towards the house. Evidently, he was not the only one who had heard of the doctor's arrival. Many people were standing on line in the courtyard hoping to be allowed a consultation.
Being a prominent figure, Reb Mordechai was pushed through the crowd and managed to gain access to the doctor. Describing his son's severe condition, Reb Mordechai begged the doctor to treat him.
"I'm sorry, my time is very limited and I must be on my way back to Vienna," came the curt reply.
Reb Mordechai recalled the Rebbe's advice. "I will pay you 1,000 rubles for your trouble," he offered. This sum of money persuaded the doctor to delay his departure, and he accompanied Reb Mordechai to his home.
"Your son has an infection which has spread to his bone marrow. Though this disease is considered incurable here in Russia, a new medicine has recently been developed in Austria. I may by chance have a sample in the case of medication I brought along with me. If I do, summon a local doctor and I will instruct him regarding its application."
Sure enough, the medicine was found and in due time, Reb Mordechai's son recovered. Thus, the Rebbe's words proved exact. Help came "from near and from afar." The doctor arrived "from afar." The appropriate medication was found in his case, "from near," and were it not for the advice not to spare money, the doctor would not have come.
The phrase "Ba'alei Cheshbon" refers to people who take stock of their behavior, confronting themselves and trying to improve. Literally, the term means, "owners of accounts." Reb Shmuel Gronem used the following parable to illustrate the relevance of the term's literal meaning.
At the close of a fiscal year, a merchant was having a business meeting with his accountant. Pouring over the books, the accountant described how the yearly balance was very poor. Indeed, the business was bordering on bankruptcy. Caught by surprise, the unfortunate businessman collapsed in shock and was revived with great difficulty.
Why did he faint and not the accountant? The accountant knew the sorry state of the businessman's affairs much better than he did. Nevertheless, his knowledge was abstract, for the account belonged to someone else. In contrast, the businessman was "the owner of the account." It was his financial future that hung in the balance.
"Such an approach," Reb Shmuel Gronem explained, "also applies in regard to improving our behavior. We shouldn't look at our faults abstractly, but rather see them as problems which affect us."
Reprinted with permission from "My Father's Shabbos Table" by Rabbi Y. Chitrick.
Our Sages describe Moshiach as waiting anxiously to come. In previous generations his coming was prevented by the fact that the Jews had not completed the tasks expected of them. At present, those tasks have been accom-plished; there is nothing lacking. All we have to do is accept Moshiach. This is the challenge of our generation: To make the world conscious of Moshiach, and to create an environment that will allow his mission to be fulfilled. Every element of our Torah study and mitzva (commandment) observance should be permeated by this objective, and directed towards it.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 9 Kislev, 5752 - 1991)