Melting Pot, Smelting Pot | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
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You've probably heard of the term "melting pot" - a pot where everything melts together and becomes one. The term was used as a metaphor for America and assimilation during the period of great immigration from about 1880 to 1920. The argument went that America was a "melting pot" - a place where different cultures and ethnicities could come for refuge and opportunity, and yet "melt" into the American culture, which meant adopting the customs, beliefs, views, practices and lifestyles of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from the north of Europe.
And for many of us Jews, that's what happened. As we became successful, our Jewishness "melted away."
So perhaps we should change the metaphor a bit - from melting pot to smelting pot. For smelting is the opposite of melting: melting blends everything together, whereas smelting separates the mineral from its ore. Smelting extracts the essence and pours off the dregs and useless parts.
(It's a thought for summer, too: instead of melting in the heat, smelt away the extra pounds and toxins with exercise.)
But back to our topic. We can "smelt" ourselves in two ways, externally and internally.
If we look at the values, customs and ideas that seem to predominate in the secular world, we have to admit that while there's much of worth, there's also much that is not only useless, but harmful. To take an obvious example, the internet - the world wide web - provides a wealth of information and opportunity - ways to learn, to connect, to do business. It also provides a stew of sites, repulsive, negative, morally debilitating. What we have to do, then, is "smelt" it - visit sites of Jewish content and eschew - stay away from - those that corrupt and corrode. (And even some "neutral" sites do that!)
Internally, we can "smelt" our personal character traits. Each emotion or character trait has a precious inner core - the "metal" - and the coarse admixture of impurities - the ore in which it's buried - that needs to be smelted away.
The famous Jewish scholar, physician, philosopher Moses Maimonides discusses the nature, development and refinement of our characters and personalities in the second section of his Mishneh Torah, where he discusses the Laws of Personal Development. It's worthwhile to quote a few salient points:
"Everyone possesses many character traits, Each trait very different and distant from the others.
"One type of man is ... constantly angry ... the calm individual is never moved to anger ... All other traits follow the same pattern of contrast...
"The two extremes of each trait... do not reflect a proper path... one should not behave in accordance with these extremes... the straight path, involves discovering the midpoint temperament of each and every trait...
"Therefore, the early Sages instructed us to evaluate our traits, to calculate them and to direct them along the middle path, so that we will be sound of body."
Now's as good a time as any to "smelt" our minds and souls, as Maimonides instructs. So join a class, get an RSS feed or daily email. Check in with your local Chabad House. It's a great way to "smelt away" all kinds of excesses.
This week's Torah portion, Behaalotcha, is read after the holiday of Shavuot, on which we celebrated the giving of the Torah. It begins with the command to Aaron the High Priest to light the menora in the Holy Temple. Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that Aaron's job was to kindle the lamps "until the flame was able to rise up by itself." The lights of the menora had to be self-sustaining.
This command is symbolic of the task of every Jew, each of whom is likened to a menora, whose function is to illuminate the world around him. A menora consists of two parts - the candles or flasks of oil which are actually lit, and the base into which they are placed. The Jew is also made up of two such components - the holy Jewish soul, and the physical body the soul inhabits. The Torah states, "The soul of man is the candle of G-d." The corporeal body is only the vessel from which the Jewish soul may shine forth to illuminate the physical world.
Just as Aaron kindled the lamps in the Holy Temple, so does G-d light the Jewish spark within every Jew. G-d sends the soul down into this world and ignites it, giving it the power to illuminate and to sustain itself.
Yet G-d does not want man to rely solely on the Divine boost he gets from above. The world was created imperfect, for man to perfect through his actions. G-d grants us free will to utilize our talents and abilities to this end. The service of the Jew is to imbue his surroundings with G-dliness and holiness through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot (commandments).
But how can we claim that our actions are performed of our own initiative, when the initial "spark" is "activated" by G-d? This problem is resolved by the Talmudic dictum which states that "assistance has no substance." Although G-d "assists" the individual by animating the inert, physical body with a G-dly soul, this in no way bestows an advantage when it comes to the moral choices a person must make. Man's job is to bridge the distance between the spiritual aid he receives from above, and the lowly physical world. This is done by converting that G-dly energy into concrete, positive deeds.
G-d created the world in such a way that only man, through his actions, can uncover the spirituality hidden within. G-d lights the menora in every Jew to enable him to bring holiness into his own personal life and to positively influence his surroundings, until those sparks are also self-sustaining. This process will ultimately reach its culmination with the coming of Moshiach and the final Redemption, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Budding Romance
by Shelly Dembe
My friend of many years had tried her best to convince me to attend the Omek Summer Retreat in Tannersville, New York. "It will really speak to you, Shelly" Beth insisted. Whether I didn't listen or perhaps was not ready for such change in my thinking, it took many years of persuasion and an invitation to teach yoga there for me to finally show up.
You could say I have been climbing the Jewish ladder, a mitzva (commandment) at a time, for the past ten years, adding a hop to my step this past year. Occasional classes with various teachers have given me more knowledge and understanding, but I have been restless for more - more passion, more depth, and more connection. I wanted to feel tingling under my skin.
Choosing to travel by car, the long drive from Columbus to Tannersville provided comfort and familiarity for my questioning soul. However, after 11 hours of sitting in a confined space, I was ready to get out and explore. Into Shimona Tzukernik's summer home I strolled, to find a pair of warm, smiling eyes and a face surrounded by light. "I know this face!" my soul exclaimed. It is the face of a fellow Jew, one with a shared connection to the Divine spark. And then there was my old, dear friend Beth by my side, kvelling with joy as her circle of friends opened up.
After settling into my cottage, my first job was to lead participants in a yoga session. So far so good; this was comfortable territory. Inviting all to be present, I too gave myself permission to breathe into this new moment. Daily yoga sessions would ground me in the familiar, and I could share my gifts of abundant health and movement with those needing comfort in their bodies.
Moving to a morning meal, I was then nourished by Miriam Gittel's conscious cooking. A bowl of creamy fresh oatmeal topped with earthy crunchy granola and juicy blueberries satisfied my taste buds and my healthy eating shtick. With a relaxed body and full belly, I curiously approached the learning table.
" 'Sanctity of Life' is a household term. But do we really know what that means? And do we as a society subscribe to the concept in actuality?" Shimona prodded.
"The value of life is connected to the contribution one makes to society," came a reply.
Before I could verbally reject this statement, Shimona thankfully assured us that this is a Western philosophy and one which is rejected by Jewish values. Whew! She then captured my attention with the thought that "physical life is the connection of the G-dly soul and the body. Murder is the premature separation of body and soul." Poetic, inspiring lessons flowed from Shimona, like the fountain of water she spoke of which flowed from her heart and nourished her twins at birth. She was now a wellspring for her students who would drink in her words in the days to come.
Afternoons found us close to the earth, inhaling the green growth of the forest as we ascended mountain tops. The children amongst our group skipped over roots and rocks, encouraging others with older bodies to enjoy the journey. Upon arriving at a vista, our eyes rested upon cities too far to feel their pulse. Bird songs drew our attention to the mountain tops, quieting the chatter in our minds. We moved into our hearts and felt the camaraderie among us take root. Our Jewish souls feasted on our connection to each other and to G-d's artistry.
Leaving the mountain, the beauty of G-d's world did not cease. In the sharing of talents, I could see the artist in all of the exquisitely different women. Annette captured sacred moments and poignant expressions in her photos. Lori blessed us with a blessing ceremony. With encouragement from Rachel's melodious songs, Mina sprung to life in joyful dance with cousin Shimona. Bracha revealed to us hidden meanings in the Torah. Every woman present expressed their gifts in uniquely beautiful ways.
"A state of being that arises from the awareness of the oneness of G-d," was how Shimona defined happiness for us. Here it was; a definition so familiar to me. After all, the "Shema" was one prayer I knew from childhood. Sitting in the hard pews of my Reform temple, I recited this watchword of our faith. Happiness had always been for the taking and here it was at the retreat, the fountain quenching my thirst.
Getting into my car for the long ride home, I was grateful for this buffer. For two hours, I bathed in the feeling of oneness with G-d. Chasidism, in Shimona's words, teaches the heart to think and the mind to feel. I could feel the blood flowing through my arteries. My heart skipped with joy. And I could feel the tingling under my skin. I was falling in love.
Shelly Dembe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For info about this year's Omek Summer Retreat, July 14 - 19, email email@example.com or call (214) 934-9331
Summer Study Opportunities
There are unique learning opportunities offered this summer by various Chabad-Lubavitch institutions and at your local Center, including:
Yeshivacation Monsey is a three-week learning program for women of all ages and walks of life. Stimulating classes, great teachers, room & board, and trips. Treat yourself to the summer you deserve. For info call 917-627-2062, visit YvcMonsey.com, email YvcMonsey@gmail.com
Summer in the Catskills
Hadar Hatorah, the world's first yeshiva for Jewish men with little or no formal background in Torah studies, is running their Summer in the Catskill Mountains from June 29-August 26. In addition to a wide variety of Torah classes on several levels, the campus has plenty of outdoor activities, room, board, and a whole lot more. Call 718 735-0250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Un-Camp for Teens
Bais Chana Un-camp is an open-minded, open-forum learning program where teen girls, ages 15-18, can explore their Judaism, expand their minds and connect with other teens. Fabulous outdoor trips, creative workshops and service projects to match, round out the program that runs from July 27-August 19 in Ontario, Wisconsin. For more info visit www.baischana.org or call 800-473-4801.
Ivy League Torah Experience
College students are invited to explore the contemporary relevance of Torah study and Jewish observance at the Ivy League Torah Experience. Tuition, room and board are free and students may also qualify for a fellowship of up to $2,000. The men's program runs from June 18 - July 28 and the women's program is June 22 - July 22. For info call 800-33-NCFJE or email Immanuel@iltse.com
Freely translated and adapted
23 Marcheshvan, 5712 (1951)
You tell me you are giving the proper amount of Tzedakah (charity). However, your shalom bayis (marital harmony) situation, needs great improvement.
The fact that you are having great difficulties in this area is a sign, that this Mitzvah (commandment) has not been completed in your previous life.
The holy Arizal teaches us, that most souls living in a body, have been here before. The reason they come back again, is to fulfill those Mitzvahs, that they did not do properly the first time around.
Those Mitzvahs that they did complete in their previous lifetime, do not require any more refinement, and therefore their observance is easy.
However, those Mitzvahs that one did not complete in his previous lifetime, are the ones most difficult to do. The Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) targets these non-completed Mitzvahs, as the ones to oppose most.
The fact that the issue of Shalom Bayis is so difficult for you proves, that it is a Mitzvah which needs fulfillment. In your past lifetime, you did not refine this Mitzvah, now is your opportunity.
1 Sivan, 5716 (1956)
Peace and blessing!
In response to your letter from the 25th of Iyar: I was happy to read in it that many of your doubts have vanished. Our holy books explain that Safek - doubt - has the same numerical equivalent as Amalek. The intent is to the Kelipa of Amalek - the spiritual force of impurity that the nation of Amalek represented. Just like the people themselves, this force embodies the trait of jumping into even a boiling bath, just so long as it manages to cool the ardor the Jewish people. The same is true of all of your doubts - their source is clearly in the influence of Amalek.
You wrote that you read in astronomy books that there are stars whose light rays must travel far more than six thousand years until reaching Earth. How, you asked, could that fit with our holy Torah's position that we are in the year 5716 since Creation?
Even if you were to assume that the above-mentioned calculation about the star's distance is correct (since that, too, is a subject of dissent among scientists), it does not pose a difficulty regarding the age of the universe. Just as stars were created, light rays were also created. And Just as G-d could create a star that begins to shine only after its creation, so could He create a star that already has rays of light shining forth from it. Especially since Torah tells us, "there was morning, the first day," even though "Let there be luminaries" was only uttered on the fourth day; i.e. there was light even before the luminaries were set in the heavens.
You write that you saw in some book that possibly the six days of creation did not consist of twenty-four hour days, etc. etc. To our sorrow, similar interpretations are offered in several books. However, they distort the verses, because - with forgiveness asked from the honor of their Torah - they did not properly understand the "foundations" upon which the various scientific theories about the world's age are built. Any knowledge or research into these foundations proves to any healthy mind that they are only conjectures, very far from certainties. This is the scientists' opinion, as is clearly stated in their books. It is just that in the books generally studied in schools by beginners, they conceal their many doubts and uncertainties in the underlying assumptions.
And while there is no need to delve into this at length, the simplest proof that the six days of creation are twenty-four hour days is the fact that the concept of keeping Shabbat after six week days is connected to G-d's resting after the six days of creation.
This letter translated by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
Give Even More Charity
Giving tzedaka (charity) will not cause the family any lack. On the contrary, our Sages taught: "Tithe so that you will become rich." Surely, this applies to those who give more than a tenth, increasing their donation to one fifth of their income. Particularly, at present, when women also earn a livelihood, it is appropriate that they give generously to tzedaka. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 25 Iyar, 5750 - 1990)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Some people wonder why there has to be so much on the subject of Moshiach and the Re-demption. What does it have to do with my life?
Looking at a discussion by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, in his main work, Tanya, is a good way to begin answering some of these questions.
In the Tanya, it says, "It is well known that the Messianic Era, and especially the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created." This is based on the statement of our Sages that the purpose of the creation of the world is that "G-d desired to have an abode in the lower world."
The entire reason for creation is that G-d "desired" that this world be a dwelling place for Him, a place where He could dwell and His essence could be fully revealed.
G-d created a world where spiritual darkness dwells and evil exists for Jews to turn the dark into light and allow the good to overpower the evil. This is accomplished through Torah and mitzvot, by means of which a person brings a G-dly light into this world.
This is the entire purpose of our lives - to brighten the world and make a dwelling place for G-d. In every part of the world and for the thousands of years that Jews have been doing mitzvot and studying Torah they have been bringing light into the world and making a dwelling place for Him.
When will the world come to its ultimate purpose and fulfillment? In the Messianic Age. Currently, we do not see the light that we are bringing into the world and the dwelling place that we are making for G-d. We don't see the spiritual influence that our actions have on this physical world. But when our work arrives at its completion and fulfillment, and the world is ready for G-d to dwell in it, then Moshiach will come and everything will be revealed.
Therefore, one who understands and contemplates the purpose of the creation of the world and the purpose of our fulfillment of mitzvot and Torah study must be filled with the desire and longing for the coming of Moshiach when the culmination of all of our generations of work will be complete.
At the order of the L-rd the people of Israel journeyed, and at the order of the L-rd they camped (Num. 9:18)
All of a Jew's actions should be "at the order of the L-rd." Whenever one states a future plan, one should say, "I will do such and such, G-d willing," or "I will do such and such with G-d's help." Likewise, when a person is traveling and reaches his destination, he should declare, "I have come here with the help of G-d." The underlying idea is to always make mention of G-d.
And if they blow with but one [trumpet], then shall the princes assemble themselves to you (Num. 10:4)
If genuine Jewish unity is the goal, "then shall the princes assemble themselves" - there must first be true unity among our leaders, who must cease infighting and provide a proper example for others. Only then can they demand unity from the rest of the people.
We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing (Num. 11:5)
The world was created in such a way that whatever is associated with the "side of holiness" requires hard work and effort. By contrast, the spiritual emanations of the "other side" come easily. In Egypt, a place of moral depravity, the Jewish people had grown accustomed to receiving abundance "for nothing," without any effort on their part. When they left Egypt and realized that they would have to work to receive G-d's blessing, they rose up in protest.
(Siddur Im Divrei Elokim Chaim)
"Rebbi Would Say: 'Which is the right path that a man - adam - should choose for himself?'" (Ethics. ch. 2) Rebbi (Rabbi Judah 'the Prince') speaks about an "adam," a person who like himself has reached a level of personal fulfillment, and yet is forced to suffer the pains of exile. At present, this is relevant to all of us. Since mankind as a whole has fulfilled all the divine service required of us, we collectively on the level of "adam." We must know what is the right path - the most direct and effective means to bring about the coming of Moshiach and the raising of the world to a higher plane of divine service.
(Sefer HaSichot 5750)