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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
We've come a long way from tying strings around our fingers as reminders that we have to do something important.
Modern technology has brought us bells in our cars so we remember to put on our seat belts; watches and computers that can be set to chime if we mustn't forget to make an important phone call or be at an appointment; voice mail and email where we can leave messages when we're away from our desks to be accessed anytime, anywhere.
Of course, long before the onset of every holiday or celebration, card shops remind us of the upcoming special day and enjoin us not to forget anyone.
Blackberries and Outlook calendars have replaced PDAs and "old-fashioned" paper calendars as the way to keep track of where we need to be and what we need to do at any given moment
Throughout the year, we also come across reminders of Jewish holidays and, by extension, our Jewishness. From the local supermarket's ad promoting honey, gefilte fish and Shabbat candles around Rosh Hashana, to American Greetings' and Hallmark's attempt to get us "in the spirit" before Chanuka, commercialism sporadically reminds us of our Judaism.
But with weeks since the High Holidays and over a month until Chanuka, we can all use a daily reminder, at the very least, of our Jewishness.
Jewish reminders, a.k.a. mitzvot (commandments), come in all shapes and sizes. Daily mitzvot can take literally a second or as long as you like. But, in keeping with our fast-paced lives and the quick reminders modern technology and consumerism afford us, we'll mention just a few moment-taking mitzvot that can be done on a daily basis and will enhance our Jewish living.
- Putting a coin daily in a tzedaka box (except on Shabbat and Jewish holidays).
- Touching or kissing the mezuza on your front door before leaving or entering your home.
- Saying the Shema prayer before retiring at night.
- Reciting a blessing before sipping that coffee or gulping down the Snapple, or spring water (The blessing is "Baruch Ata Ado-ni Elo-haynu Melech Haolam, Shehakol N'hiya Bidvaro - Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, by whose word everything came into being").
- Listening to a pre-recorded Torah class. They last anywhere from 3 minutes to 30 and you can call your closest Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out your local number.
- Taking a moment to contemplate the blessings and good you have in your life and thanking G-d for them.
- Doing a good deed or kind act specifically to bring the Redemption.
We shouldn't wait until we're so inundated by non-Jewish symbols or holidays that we establish Jewish bells, chimes or messages as a reaction to the onslaught. And, of course, Jewish reminders don't have to be limited to those times during the year when the more external reminders are absent.
This week's portion, Vayeira, contains the account of the "binding of Isaac," Abraham's tenth and most difficult test. Commanded by G-d to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, Abraham responded with alacrity and devotion, but at the last minute was prevented from carrying out his task by a heavenly angel. "And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram...and he offered it up for a burnt-offering instead of his son."
Abraham intoned the following prayer at every stage of the service as he offered the animal: "May it be Your will that this action be considered as having been performed on my son." Abraham was not content to merely offer the ram instead of Isaac; he prayed for his actions to be considered by G-d as if he had actually sacrificed his son.
It was then that the angel called out to him again: " 'By Myself have I sworn,' says G-d, 'because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven.' " Abraham's offering was so favorable to G-d that He swore in confirmation of the blessings He would bestow on Abraham and his children.
What was so special about the offering of the ram, and why did the angel call out only after it was sacrificed? And, why was it so important to Abraham for G-d to consider it as if Isaac had been offered, as originally commanded?
The explanation for this lies in the difference between a person's willingness to do something and the actual performance of the deed. A person willing to sacrifice his life for the sanctification of G-d's name is not on the same level as one who actually does so.
When Abraham was commanded by G-d to sacrifice his son he was willing to obey without any hesitation whatsoever. When it came to actually performing the deed, however, Abraham was prevented from doing so. Abraham could therefore be credited with only the willingness to carry out G-d's will, but not with the actual deed. It was for this reason that Abraham prayed so insistently for G-d to consider it as if Isaac himself had been sacrificed.
Because of Abraham's extraordinary devotion in this regard he merited G-d's sworn affirmation of the blessings He would bestow. A blessing can be averted by a person's transgressions, but a sworn oath uttered by G-d can never be abrogated. This oath, in the merit of the "binding of Isaac," has stood the Jewish people in good stead throughout the generations, and will attain complete fruition when, "your descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies," with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption, speedily in our day.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Taste of Yeshiva
Ed.'s Note: After reading this you won't want to wait 'til summer to experience "Yeshivacation." And you don't have to! Winter Yeshivcation is just around the corner (See etc. below).
by Randy Diamond
A group of us from the Waxman Chabad House of Beechwood, Ohio, were planning our seventh annual summer Yeshivacation trip.
I remembered back to our first trip when my friend David Kottler and I saw the advertisement on our shul's bulletin board. The ad promised unlimited learning and relaxation in the serene Catskill mountains. We would be together with full-time yeshiva students in there twenties as well as "older guys" like ourselves. We knew immediately that this would be a perfect getaway; David and I had had our share of ski trips, golf trips and other types of "guys trips" and we were open to a new experience. Over the years we have encouraged others from our shul to join us.
Our itinerary has become somewhat set at this point. We drive from Cleveland straight to the Rebbe's Ohel (resting place) in Queens. Next, what trip would be complete without a visit to one of NYC's best kosher steak houses? By evening we have made it to the campground in the Catskill Mountains, and we're ready for a few days of learning and relaxation.
The first morning when we get up (class begins at 8:00 a.m.) and emerge from our cabins, we know that once again we have made a smart decision to return this summer.
There are three rabbis who have been teaching every year, Rabbis Yaakov Goldberg, Yosef Boruch Wircberg and Yaakov Osdoba. All of the rabbis are special people, excellent teachers, and we look forward to re-acquainting ourselves with them each summer. (They claim our visit is the high point of their summer probably because what other nuts would come from so far away like this!!)
Throughout the rest of the day there is davening (not hurried prayers, like those back at home where everyone is rushing off to work) and classes, with alternatives for more advanced and less advanced. We use some of the free time to visit local towns and sample some of the scenery and fare, all of which never seems to disappoint.
By nighttime, though the meals are good quality camp fare, we make our own barbeque with steaks we've brought from NYC. Later in the evening, there is always a fabrengen (gathering). This year's farbrengens were all led by Rabbi Goldberg, who related many great stories and Torah thoughts which have been gleaned from his 41 years at Hadar Hatorah. We never wanted them to end.
Eventually, Shabbat comes. A truly wonderful meal is set, and there is lots of singing, dancing, and just some short words of Torah. In the first few summers that our group attended Yeshivacation we would arrive on Sunday and leave before Shabbat. When we decided to extend our stay to include Shabbat, we realized that in the past we had made a BIG mistake!! Shabbat at Hagar Hatorah in the Catskills is unforgettable. The spirit is fantastic, more singing and dancing and great stories about the Rebbe.
On Sunday we say goodbye to the rabbis and their families, and all of the new and old friends we have made. Our only regret , every year, is that we don't stay longer.
As we re-join our families back in Cleveland we each do our best to share the experiences with our wives. What did you do... what did you learn... are you glad to still be shlepping up there every year? (Maybe they're just happy to get rid of us for a few days, though I like to think that they really do enjoy seeing how much we look forward to this trip each year and how each of us grows Jewishly from the experience.)
We strongly encourage other shuls to organize their own small groups and you will see how you will love it. You will probably start coming each year just as we have.
by David Kottler
In our hectic, action-filled lives, striving for many material things, a persistent part of our soul keeps calling out for tranquility, a closer connection to our Creator, a deeper understanding of the meaning and value of the lives we live and the actions we pursue.
Chasidic teachings explain that for water to be pure, it needs to be connected to a source, like a wellspring. This is analogous to our connection with the Rebbe as well as the encouragement to "spread the wellsprings" of Chasidut.
This is the feeling I get when I pull into the long driveway at our home-away-from-home, Hagar Hatorah in the Catskills. There is actually a beautiful river running through the property, and a gazebo overlooking the river, where I had my first class one morning eight years ago.
That was one of many very profound and impactful classes (studying Chasidic teachings before davening) where the teachings and the words resonated very deeply. The lesson that day was that G-d blesses us beyond all our efforts, like the dew, for our attempts to study his Torah.
Our most recent trip started with an early morning class by Rabbi Goldberg, the senior rabbi, on a subject I had been struggling with for months. How can we daven better, and what types of meditations or better yet, how do we meditate on the greatness of G-d and His unity?
The words that morning were as the Torah describes, sweeter than honey and more valuable than silver or gold. Rabbi Goldberg brought to life the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism.
I strongly encourage everyone to experience what the "Yeshivacation" can do for you and your soul by spending some time there. It is plugging into and becoming recharged with the inspiration that carries us through our "daily lives" back home with our families and communities.
It's time to treat yourself to a unique and meaningful vacation! This winter Hadar Hatorah Men's Yeshiva and Machon Chana Women's Institute can take you on a journey to the warm reaches of your Jewish soul. The Yeshivacation program is being held from December 23 through January 3, 2010 in the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Yeshivacation is an intensive learning program for Jewish men and women from all walks of life, at all levels of Jewish study and observance. To contact Hadar HaTorah call (718) 735-0250, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.HadarHatorah.org. To contact Machon Chana call (718) 735-0030, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.MachonChana.org
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5736 (1976)
To The Jewish Mothers and Daughters everywhere,
G-d bless you -
Blessing and Greeting:
In view of the recent events - the hijacking and saving of the hostages held in Uganda; and the subsequent attempt of the terrorists to perpetrate a vicious reprisal, G-d forbid, in Kushta (Istanbul),
It should be understood that these events are an indication that Jews must, at the earliest possible, strengthen all aspects of their security and defenses - first and foremost in their spiritual life, which is the channel to receive G-d's blessings also in the physical aspect, namely, to know the right ways and means that have to be undertaken in the natural order of things, and to fully succeed in these efforts, in accordance with the Divine promise, "G-d, your G-d, will bless you in all that you do" - to be protected and secured from enemies, and to be spared any undesirable happenings, G-d forbid.
The above events remind each and all of our Jewish brethren in general, and Jewish mothers and daughters in particular - since every married Jewish woman is called Akeres Habayis, "Foundation of the Home," and those not yet married are to be Akeres Habayis, for which they must prepare themselves from tender age - the following:
The present situation calls for the protection of every Jewish home. True protection is that which only G-d provides, as it is written, "G-d guards the city." To ensure this Divine guardianship, the home has to be conducted in all aspects according to G-d's will.
Then the home is also an abode for the Shechinah (G-d's Presence), in accordance with His promise, "I will dwell among them."
In addition to this, G-d has given our people a special gift wherewith to protect the home, namely, the Mitzvah (commandment) of Mezuzah. Our Sages declare explicitly that "the home is protected by it (the Mezuzah)."
Moreover, this protection embraces the members of the household also when they go out of the house, as it is written, 'G-d will guard your going and your coming from now and forever.' It is further explained in our holy sources that the Divine Name (Shin-Dalet-Yud) written on the back of the sacred Mezuzah parchment spells out the words, "Shomer Dalsos Yisroel - Guardian of Jewish Doors."
Let it also be remembered that inasmuch as all Jews constitute one body, and are bound up with one another, every Mezuzah is a Divine protection not only for the individual home, with everybody and everything in it, but each additional kosher Mezuzah that is affixed on a doorpost of any Jewish home, anywhere, adds to the protection of all our people everywhere.
And considering - as mentioned above - that every Jewish housewife is an Akeres Habayis, and every Jewish girl a future Akeres Habayis, they have a special Zechus (merit) and responsibility in the matter of Mezuzah, to see to it that not only a kosher Mezuzah be affixed on every doorpost in their home that is required to have a Mezuzah, but that the same be done by their Jewish neighbors and friends, and in all Jewish homes.
I hope and pray that you will do this with inspiration and joy, which, in addition to increasing the Hatzlocho [success] in this effort, will also inspire many others to do likewise, and the Zechus Horabim [the merit you brought to the many] will further stand you in good stead....
How much should one thank G-d, through reciting blessings? The Rebbe explained (22 Marcheshvan, 5751) - "A person is obligated to recite 100 blessings each day as it is written, 'Now Israel, what is it that G-d asks from you?' Do not read 'mah' ('what'), read 'mei-ah' (100)... These 100 blessings are intended to bring a person to fear G-d, to love Him and to recall Him at all times through the recitation of these blessings." Visit your local Judaica store or kehotonline.com for a blessing guide.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is the 20th of Marcheshvan, the birthday of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, born in 5621 (1860). Often referred to as "the Maimonides of Chasidut" for his terse and practical summarizations of complex subject matter, he also founded Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in 1897, which continues to flourish around the world.
It was during the years of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership that the famous Mendel Beilis blood libel case occurred in Russia. Accused in 1911 of the age-old charge of ritual murder when the body of a Christian boy was found near a brick oven owned by a Jew, Mendel Beilis, an innocent employee, was arrested and ordered to stand trial, despite the absence of any incriminating evidence. A two-year anti-Jewish campaign ensued, culminating in the trial itself. The judges had been carefully selected for their narrow-mindedness, and the jury consisted of ignorant peasants who believed in the myth of Jewish ritual murder.
The Rebbe Rashab was instrumental in helping the Jewish defense attorney, Oscar Gruzenberg, prepare his case, providing him with some 33 books to consult. In a letter of encouragement and support, the Rebbe also instructed him to conclude his defense with the verse "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad" ("Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One"). The Rebbe also gave Gruzenberg a blessing to succeed in his objective.
Oscar Gruzenberg listened to the Rebbe's advice. At the end of his very lengthy presentation in court, he turned to the prisoner sitting on the defendant's bench and said, "Mendel Beilis! Even if these judges close their ears and their hearts to the truth and find you guilty, do not be discouraged. Be as willing for self-sacrifice as every other Jew who ever gave up his soul for the sanctity of G-d's name with the declaration, 'Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!'"
Mendel Beilis was acquitted.
He lifted up his eyes... and behold, three men were standing by him (Gen. 18:2)
To Abraham the visitors appeared as men, but to Lot they looked like angels. Our ancestor Abraham was generous and kind, welcoming rich and poor into his tent with equal enthusiasm. Lot, by contrast, would only allow important people into his home. Thus there was no need for the strangers to appear to Abraham as angels, as his hospitality extended to everyone.
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him (Gen. 18:19)
According to Rashi, "For I know him" is "an expression of love...for he who knows someone brings him near to himself, and knows him and understands him." Why did G-d love Abraham so much? Unlike other righteous people who lived before his time, Abraham understood that the objective in serving G-d is not to attain individual perfection through contemplation, but to actually have a positive effect on the world. G-d knew that Abraham would "command his children and household after him" to go in the way of the Torah, and thus loved him dearly.
And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian...laughing (Gen. 21:9)
As Rashi explains, the word "laughing" in this context denotes "idol worship, illicit relations and murder." To a wicked person like Ishmael, even the gravest sins were a big "joke." Isaac, however (whose Hebrew name Yitzchak is derived from the same word meaning "to laugh"), laughed at the petty stratagems of the Evil Inclination...
Many years ago, after the rabbi of Tchentzikov had been married for 18 years without having been blessed with children, he travelled to the Kozhnitzer Maggid to obtain the blessing of the tzadik (righteous person).
When the Kozhnitzer listened to the man's request he uttered a sigh from deep within his being. "The gates of heaven are closed to your petition!" he cried.
"No, no! Please, you must help me!" the man wept desperately.
"I cannot help you," said the Kozhnitzer. "But I will send you to someone else who will be able to help. You must go to a certain person who is called 'Shvartze Wolf - Black Wolf,' and he will be the one to help."
"Yes, I know him," the rabbi said, "He lives in my village, and a more coarse, miserable person you could never find."
At first the Kozhnitzer did not respond. The rabbi realized that if the Kozhnitzer was sending him to Black Wolf, he must have a good reason.
The Kozhnitzer then quietly revealed, "Black Wolf is head of the eighteen hidden saints whose merits sustain the world."
The rabbi sought out Black Wolf in the forest hut which was his home. Though cognizant of Black Wolf's true identity, the rabbi was still frightened to approach him.
He devised a ruse by which to gain admittance to his hut.
He would go into the forest just before Shabbat and when he found Black Wolf's house, would pretend that he had lost his way. He would beg to spend the holy Shabbat there, and under the circumstances, Black Wolf could hardly refuse a fellow Jew that favor.
Friday afternoon he set out and as planned reached Black Wolf's hut. He knocked on the door and the man's wife answered.
Her horrible appearance marked her as a true equal to her husband, for never had a more hideous and unpleasant woman been seen.
Nevertheless, the rabbi begged her to allow him to stay over Shabbat.
"Very well," she finally relented. "But if my husband finds you here, he'll tear you apart with his bare hands. You can't stay in here, but go into the stable if you want," she croaked.
Soon Black Wolf arrived home and entered the stable, his eyes blazing with hatred. "How dare you come here! If you set foot outside of this stable, I'll rip you apart with my bare hands!"
The frightened Jew shivered in his boots as he beheld the terrible visage of Black Wolf.
Suddenly the thought came to the rabbi that a tzadik is so pure that he acts as a mirror, reflecting the image of the person who is looking upon him.
Thus, what he saw in the appearance of Black Wolf was nothing more or less than a picture of his own spiritual impurity. With that, he searched into his soul, and prayed from the deepest part of his being. He poured out his soul and in those few moments returned wholeheartedly to his Maker. He felt himself suffused with a warm, peaceful feeling.
Suddenly he was shaken from his reverie by the unexpected sensation of a soft hand being laid on his shoulder. He looked up, not quite sure what he would see, a shiver of fear passing through him. There stood Black Wolf, but instead of his accustomed fierce exterior, he had a refined and peaceful visage.
The visitor was ushered into the hut, which no longer appeared rough and tumble-down, but warm and inviting. Black Wolf's wife entered with her children, and their appearance, too, was beautiful and serene.
Black Wolf turned to his guest and said in a quiet voice, "I know why you have come here. I know, I know. You and your wife will rejoice in the birth of a boy. But you must name him Schvartze Wolf."
The rabbi wondered to himself, "How can I name my son after him? It is not our custom to name after the living," but he remained silent.
The following morning Shvartze Wolf passed away.
After Shabbat, the Tchentzikover Rabbi returned home. In time, he revealed to his congregation the hidden identity of the hated Shvartze Wolf.
True to his word, a baby boy was born and he was given the strange name "Shvartze Wolf."
In the year 1945 Jews who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust began streaming into the Land of Israel. When the Belzer Rebbe held his first Melave Malka (Saturday night meal taking leave of the Sabbath Queen) in the Holy Land many Chasidim came and introduced themselves to the Rebbe.
This story was one of those related at that first Melave Malka of the Belzer Rebbe.
And at that memorable occasion one man stood before the assembled and said, "My name is Shvartze Wolf ben Chana, and I am a descendant of that child who is spoken about in the story."
In the future when the spirit of impurity will be removed from the earth, Divine Providence will become manifest and revealed; at that time, everyone will see how every single occurrence derives from G-d.
(Keser Shem Tov, sec. 607)