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Imagine taking more than a few breaths in a room filled with air made stale from a party the previous evening. Or consider the taste of a corned beef on rye (hold the pickle, it has too much sodium) that's been in the fridge for a whole week. And who would even dream of taking a sip of water that had been sitting out for a whole month!
Though you might not become ill from breathing stale air for a few minutes or eating one questionable corned-beef-on-rye, you could become very sick from constantly breathing old air and eating old food.
Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water.
These commodities are necessary to live not only healthy lives, but to life in general.
Jewish teachings are collectively assigned the name "Torah" and Torah is often referred to as Torat Chaim - the Living Torah. Judaism is a living religion. For us to feel the vibrancy of Judaism, we must live it on a daily basis.
This means that in order to maintain our Jewish health, yesterday's "air" and last week's "food" are not enough.
The memories of a family Passover seder of years gone by are great for reminiscences, but what have I done freshly Jewish TODAY?
Chewing over, for weeks, a thought heard at a Jewish lecture attended last month is great, but what have I done TODAY that will be like a breath of fresh air for my soul?
Remembering on Friday night the Sabbath candles Bubby lit and the fresh challa Zaidy blessed is beautiful and will bring tears to many an eye, but lighting Sabbath candles this Friday before Shabbat and saying the blessing over the challa this Friday evening will be a refreshing and restful way to end a stress-filled and tiresome week.
Our Sages teach that "Every day the Torah should be like new." This does not mean that we should bend and bow every time a new translation of the Bible comes out, or fawn over a new "retelling" of the story of the Creation. It also does not mean that we can change, reshape, or alter those parts of Torah and Jewish tradition we feel are not conducive to life, today.
For, by calling Judaism a living religion we do not mean to say that it can grow and change without restrictions.
The Living G-d gives us a living Torah which is true and relevant for all times and all places.
Living Judaism means that Judaism is alive and that we are truly alive when we live it on a daily basis.
Throughout the day, breath deeply the fresh, life-supporting air of mitzvot (commandments). Savor the fresh taste of daily Torah study.
Experience Living Judaism.
This week's Torah portion, Vayigash, begins with the words "Judah came near."
Judah approached Joseph and asked that his younger brother, Benjamin, be released so that he could bring him to their father, Jacob.
Our Sages tell us that Judah was prepared for all possibilities when he approached Joseph, even the possibility of war. Judah was willing to do all that was necessary to free Benjamin and return him to his father.
Why did Judah adopt such a strong stance? The answer is that Judah was personally responsible for Benjamin's welfare, as he explained, "For your servant became surety for the lad." Judah had promised his father that he would take care of Benjamin and bring him home; thus he was willing to do anything, even wage battle, to fulfill his promise.
But how could Judah have even imagined that he could win a confrontation with Joseph? Joseph and his brothers were few in number. Joseph, by contrast, was the second highest ruler in all of Egypt, with the entire populace of the country under his command.
In truth, Judah could never have been victorious in a war conducted against Joseph. Nonetheless, Judah was ready to take even this drastic step should it become necessary. He knew he was responsible for Benjamin, and accepted his role as guardian without question.
True, Jacob had other remaining sons, all of whom were healthy and sound. But Judah realized that self-sacrifice is required when the life of even one Jewish child is at stake.
To save Benjamin, Judah was willing to give up his own life. This contains an important lesson for every Jewish father and mother. When G-d grants them the blessing of a child, it carries with it a great responsibility. Sometimes it is even necessary for parents to demonstrate self-sacrifice, to make sure that nothing untoward ever happens to even one of their offspring, G-d forbid.
One area in which the greatest efforts must be expended is that of education. Providing a Torah-true education for Jewish children is so important that parents must be willing to demonstrate even the highest levels of self-sacrifice in order to make it possible.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 1
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Freely translated and adapted
2 Shevat, 5719 (1959)
With regard to your traits of anger and rage:
Ask your teachers to thoroughly explain to you the concept of individual Divine pro-vidence, which is a fundament of our faith.
The general substance of this concept is: The Creator and Conductor of the world oversees with individual providence each and every detail of your life, that is to say, you are constantly under G-d's supervision and He observes all your actions.
When you will ponder this matter many times until it is ingrained in your memory, this will surely diminish your temper and anger.
You should also perform that which the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) commands, that when one offends another individual, even when done in a fit of anger, he is to beg his complete forgiveness.
It is difficult to ask forgiveness from another after having caused them offense. When you force yourself to overcome your natural reluctance to ask forgiveness and make sure to do so as directed in the Shulchan Aruch, then every time you are about to become angry you will surely remember that afterwards you will have to ask that person's forgiveness.
This, too, will assist you in diminishing your character trait of anger and the like.
2 Adar II, 5717 (1957)
... Regarding the traits of anger and haughtiness which you write about and which you would like to master:
Like all matters that are to be accomplished, this matter too can only be accomplished in an incremental manner. The first step is not to give voice to the anger or haughtiness; by doing so you reduce the intensification of this trait - as we verily observe that giving voice to an emotion heightens its intensity.
Concurrently, when either of these emotions becomes roused within you, you should meditate on that which is written in the beginning of chapter 41 of Tanya until the end of the second line on p. 56b. It would be proper for you to review this passage frequently, and better yet, that you commit it to memory.
In particular it is important to refrain from anger in light of that which is stated in the writings of the AriZal that anger causes one's soul to be exchanged. See also in the talk of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, of the 19th of Kislev, 5693, in which he explains the saying of our Sages: "Whoever is in a rage resembles an idolater."
29 Sivan, 5717 (1957)
You write about your nerves - that you frequently get very irritated and so on:
It would be advisable for you to read and also study the appropriate places where the matter of individual Divine providence is discussed according to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the teachings of Chassidus. (Some of these points are found in Iggeres HaKodesh of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Epistle 25.)
Engrave these teachings in your memory by studying these teachings many times, so that you will easily remember the subject matter with all its details. This will also have an impact on your behavior, for understandably G-d's providence negates the concept of anger and even becoming upset (except for matters relating to the fear of G d, as explained in Iggeres HaKodesh).
The above is eminently accomplishable and doable, for this matter of not becoming upset or angry is readily understandable on a rational level. Moreover, with just a bit of contemplation, one sees how this is a direct result of the simple belief that "there is no place devoid of Him." ....
16 Marcheshvan, 5713 (1953)
I received your letter ... in which you write about your disputes with ... regarding the business.
... With regard to this trait of anger, I must add the following:
We veritably observe that anger regarding worldly matters is not only not beneficial, but actually makes things worse.
This is particularly true with regard to interpersonal relationships, where when one person becomes angry it causes the other person to become angry as well and at such times the emotions overwhelm the intellect. Only later does the person realize that he shouldn't have said that which he said, but by then it is too late to take back his words....
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Why do we fast on the tenth of Tevet?
On the 10th of Tevet in the year 425 b.c.e. the city of Jerusalem was besieged. Two years later, the city walls were breached and on the ninth of the month of Av, the first Holy Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. To commemorate the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, we refrain from food and drink from daybreak to nightfall on 10 Tevet (January 6 this year). We add special prayers to our regular prayers as well.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are currently in the month of Tevet. The word "Tevet" is related to the Hebrew word "tov," which means "good." However, in this month, we commemorate many sad events, including the Tenth of Tevet.
The tenth of Tevet (this year coinciding with January 6) is the day on which the evil king Nebuchadnezar layd siege upon Jerusalem, which eventually led to the destruction of the first Holy Temple, and the Babylonian Exile. The tenth of Tevet is considered an especially solemn day, because it is the first in a series of events which led to the present exile. Therefore it is a day to reflect upon all of those events and the actions that led to them, and to reflect upon which of our own actions need improving in order hasten the end of exile and prepare for the imminent Redemption.
And yet, as stated previously, Tevet is connected to good. We see from this that we have the power to transform bad into good, sorrow into joy, darkness into light, and exile into redemption. Since Tevet marks the beginning of the calamitous events which befell our people, our Sages named this month "Tevet" to inspire the positive, good energy that is within every one of us.
Tevet has the added significance of being connected to the number ten, as Tevet is the tenth month of the year counting from Nissan. Additionally, we commemorate the siege of Jerusalem on the tenth day of the tenth month.
Ten is a number of great power. Yom Kippur is on the tenth day of Tishrei. G-d gave us ten commandments. The Torah mentions nine times that the Jews sang to G-d and the tenth song will be song with the coming of Moshiach.
We must harness this additional power to fulfill the service of Tevet, which is to transform the darkness into light.
For in order to preserve life has G-d sent me before you...to prepare for you a posterity on the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance (Gen. 45:5,7)
The darkness of the exile makes it hard to perceive G-dliness, or to arouse the natural, innate love for G-d that is the birthright of every Jew. But G-d has mercy on His people Israel, and in every generation sends us one tzadik (righteous person) like Joseph, whose function is to diffuse light to each individual soul and enable it to contemplate G-d's greatness.
Do not be sad, nor be angry with yourselves that you sold me (Gen. 45:5)
Sadness and anger are connected and feed off each other. Joseph told his brothers not to be sad; once they were in a better frame of mind, their anger would naturally dissipate.
(Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar)
And he sent his brothers away and they departed, and he said to them, "Do not quarrel by the way" (Gen. 45:24)
There are many true and valid ways of serving G-d within the context of Judaism, all of which are positive and holy (provided that they do not contradict the fundamental principles of the Torah). Joseph was counselling his brothers to avoid quarreling over "the way," meaning individual "styles," of G-dly service, for they are all "the words of the living G-d."
In the course of this long and bitter exile the Jews have suffered many trials and tribulations at the hands of gentile monarchs who sought to line their treasure chests with Jewish money.
Once, in the kingdom of Bohemia, King Wenzel found himself in a predicament common to the aristocracy - he needed gold! And as always, he turned to his Jewish subjects to fill his coffers.
The Jewish community was accustomed to the cruel demands of the king, but this time the demand was more exorbitant than ever. Reb Shmuel, the leader of the community, was presented with an ultimatum: "In eight days, the Jews of Prague must hand over the sum of 20,000 pieces of silver. If you fail to do so, the king will withdraw his protection from the Jews of the realm."
Panic spread throughout the community, as word of the royal edict became known. Not long before, dozens of Jews had been massacred by wild mobs. If not for the intervention of the king's soldiers, who knows how many more would have died? The city elders calculated the total worth of the community. Even if the Jews sold all of their possessions, they could never hope to meet the king's demands.
Then Reb Shmuel stood up. "I am a descendant of King David and I am sure that his merit will protect me. I will intercede before the king."
The next day, all the congregation gathered to pray for Reb Shmuel's success. As for himself, Reb Shmuel had a plan. Together with his beautiful and intelligent daughter Reb Shmuel headed for the palace, but first, he had one stop to make.
Many years before, as he traveled through the forest, Reb Shmuel chanced upon a leather casket. Upon examination he realized it belonged to the local landowner, and he rode off to return it to its rightful owner. The grateful nobleman offered a reward, but Reb Shmuel refused, saying, "Our Torah teaches that we are obliged to return lost objects."
"I will never forget your kindness, and I am at your service if you ever need a friend," the noble swore.
Now was the time to collect this debt. Reb Shmuel explained the situation to his noble friend.
"As you are aware, the king does not receive Jews without their being summoned. However, he is always interested in beautiful women. Perhaps he will receive your daughter," replied the noble.
This is exactly what Reb Shmuel had expected when he framed his plan.
Days later, all eyes focused on the young Jewish woman as Rachel entered the king's throne room.
"Ah, so you wish to speak to me. Well, I will hear you, but first, you must kiss this bridegroom who stands before you," and the king pointed to a large Christian statue which stood behind his throne.
"Your majesty," Rachel replied, "it is customary for the groom to approach the bride, and so I will wait for him to come to me."
The king laughed out loud at her clever response. "I see she is not only beautiful, but very bright. Allow the Jewess to speak!"
"Your Majesty, my father asks permission to say four words to the King."
"Four words! What could he say in only four words?! Very well, admit him, but if this is a joke this day will be your last!"
Reb Shmuel entered and stood before the throne. "G-d said to Satan!" he pronounced in a booming voice.
The king waited to see what would follow, but Reb Shmuel said nothing. "Very clever, Jew. Well, go on now and explain yourself."
"Your Majesty, these words are from the book of Job, when the L-rd condescended to speak to the lowest of the angels, Satan. Therefore, Sire, I infer that Your Majesty will deign to speak with me, the lowest of your subjects."
"Well said. Since you compare G-d and myself, I shall speak with you."
Then Reb Shmuel threw himself at the king's feet, beseeching him to rescind his onerous demand. When Reb Shmuel had finished, the king spoke: "I will forgive the Jews this time. But, tell me, what do you wish for yourself? Every messenger wants something for himself."
"No, Your Majesty, I desire nothing for myself at all." "No, that is not acceptable. It will not be said that King Wenzel fails to repay any good deed. From this time forth, you will be admitted to my presence at will, and you will be the official representative of the Jews in the royal court."
And then, as an afterthought, the king asked, "What is your name, Jew?" "My name is Shmuel," he replied.
"Shmuel is your given name. From this day, I decree that your family name will be that of the angel to whom G-d spoke. You and your descendants will forevermore be called 'Satan.' "
And so, to this day, descendants of this brave and righteous man who risked his life and that of his beloved daughter to save the Jews of Prague bear the strange last name of Satan or "Stein."
On the verse, "Remember the Sabbath to sanctify it," Rashi writes: "Take heed to remember the Sabbath constantly, so that if you encounter something special [such as a delicacy, in the course of the week], set it aside for Shabbat." The same applies to the future Redemption, referred to as "the Day which is entirely Sabbath and repose for life everlasting." Even when we are still in the weekdays of the exile, we should constantly keep in mind and prepare for the Redemption.
(From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 11 Sivan, 5744 - 1984)