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Ah, winter! It's cold, it's wet - and in some places it even snows! Even in the south of North America, where snow is rare, this year it snowed.
We have to admit that snow is one of the more interesting things about nature. It's not just frozen water - that's ice. Snow is crystal-like - meaning its structure is a repeating pattern. Think of the pictures of snowflakes, no two of which are supposed to be alike. Each branch of a snowflake duplicates every other branch, and they "grow" in a recognizable pattern.
Because of the structure of snowflakes, snow - the accumulation of millions and billions of snowflakes - has what's called an "open" structure - lots of space between the actual snowflakes. That's why it's soft - unless, of course, it's packed down by lots of pressure from outside.
When snow first hits the ground and accumulates, its soft, powdery - fluffy. It has to harden a bit before we can make snowballs. The more that falls, the more it "packs down."
One more thing: snow forms a blanket over the earth, and ironically insulates what's beneath it. While the snow is cold, and the ground level frozen, deep in the earth next spring's seeds are hibernating, protected from the harsh wind and freezing temperatures.
Chasidic philosophy explains, at length, that Torah is compared to water. Actually, Chasidism discusses how the Torah may also be compared to wine and oil - wine and oil representing different levels of the inner teachings of the Torah, the mystical aspect. Torah is first compared to water, however, for a number of reasons: water, like Torah, descends from a high place to a low place. Water, like Torah, penetrates whatever material it encounters. (One can see how wine and oil share some of these characteristic.) Water, like Torah, causes things to grow and quenches thirst - in the Torah's case, thirst for knowledge of G-dliness.
Water is compared to the revealed level of Torah - the narratives in the Torah, and particularly the laws and customs. For water, like the revealed level of Torah, is open and visible to all. (In this water differs from wine and oil, for the grape and olive must be squeezed to yield their liquids.) But there is a blandness to water; it is, in a sense, without taste; it has no special blessing. So, too, the revealed level of Torah can, if not approached or learned appropriately, appear to be "dry." (Ironic, considering that Torah is compared to water!)
What does this have to do with snow? Well, as discussed above, snow is a crystalline form of frozen water. That is, the "water nature" of snow is hidden within its structure - and condensed. Further, snow doesn't penetrate (until it melts), but covers - conceals and protects.
So, if we are to extend the analogy, perhaps it's possible to do so thus: If snow is an aspect of water, and water represents the revealed level of Torah - then snow should represent some aspect of that revealed level.
The revealed level of Torah has two parts: the legal and the Midrashic. Thus, we might say that snow represents the Midrash or Agada: it conceals deep, powerful lessons and insights, so lofty they must first be concealed in what appear to be "fantastic" legends. But just as the patterns of a snowflake contain not just the power, but also the beauty of water, so too do the Midrashim, in their "story structures," contain essential truths of Torah.
The Torah portion of Va'eira recounts the plagues that G-d inflicted on the Egyptians. Most lasted one week, with the exceptions of the plague of darkness and the slaying of the firstborn.
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, provides the timetable: In general, each plague occupied a period of one month. The first week was the plague itself, followed by three weeks during which Moses repeatedly warned Pharaoh about the plague to come.
At first glance, this categorization seems odd. Wouldn't the three weeks of warning belong to the next plague, rather than the one which preceded it? No, Rashi insists, the three weeks in which Moses admonished Pharaoh and forewarned him about the coming plague relate to the plague that was already visited upon the Egyptians.
Here we see the deeper significance of Moses' actions: In warning Pharaoh, Moses' intention was not merely to prepare him for the next round of punishment, but to "break" him. The whole purpose of the Ten Plagues was to shatter Pharaoh's arrogance, to intimidate him. In fact, the warning phase that followed each plague was an integral part of this process.
By reprimanding Pharaoh immediately upon the completion of each plague, the fear and damage inflicted by that plague was intensified manyfold. With each warning, Pharaoh came that much closer to being "broken."
The Torah relates that even before the plagues began, Moses was sent before Pharaoh and his magicians to perform the miracle in which his staff turned into a serpent. The very next day, with the impression still fresh in Pharaoh's mind, Moses warned him about the plague of blood.
Concerning this mission, G-d commanded Moses, "The staff that turned into a snake, you shall take in your hand" - thereby emphasizing the connection between the miracle and Moses' words of admonition. With Pharaoh still under the influence of what he had witnessed, Moses' warning made the miracle seem that much more wondrous.
Pharaoh is symbolic of the obstacles a Jew encounters in his service of G-d; the plagues represent his efforts to wage war against them. Applying the above principle to our lives we see that it's not enough to "attack" these impediments; we must "break" them completely until total victory is attained.
Chasidut explains that this desire to prevail is deeply rooted in the soul. And just as a king will spend vast amounts of money to be victorious in war, G-d opens His "treasury" and grant the Jewish people storehouses of strengths.
We, the generation of the "footsteps of Moshiach," are particularly equipped with the strength to overcome difficulties. And by standing strong we will attain the ultimate victory of all: the Final Redemption with Moshiach.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 31 of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Soul Journey
"I don't remember exactly when my spiritual journey began, I think that I always was looking for the right path." Begins Iris Ahuvah.
Iris thinks back over 20 years to the time of her graduation from High School. "I was very preoccupied with being social, accepted and successful in my studies, but at the same time I wanted to know from where I came, who I was, and the meaning of life."
Iris was born in the United States. Her family moved to Ashdod, Israel, when she was three years old. Later she had two brothers. Their Israeli home was not particularly Jewish in any way. There were no outward Jewish symbols and minimal Jewish observance. Her parents weren't against Judaism, she emphasizes. They just had no relationship with it negative or positive.
"I followed the regular path that my contemporaries took. After finishing the army I began a journey to find myself. I wanted to feel comfortable, complete, and happy. I searched among various ways, places and people. Eventually I travelled to the United States.
Arriving in a land of unlimited possibility, Iris found a country preoccupied with a trend of spirituality. Kabala, meditation, Yoga, and self awareness courses were at the height of popularity. She tried them all. Together with her brother and another friend who, like her, were also searching for meaning, she signed up for a Kabala course and started plowing through books of philosophy.
"In the midst of this spiritual exploration, I began to light Shabbat candles. For the holidays we also went to some of the Chabad Houses in the Los Angeles area where we were living." There, they encountered Chasidic thought for the first time. "My brother and I became vegetarians. In retrospect, this meant that I was actually prevented from eating a good deal of non-kosher food." They also tried to be better people, and in their speech to be more truthful and careful that the tone and content should be more refined.
However, Iris was not satisfied. No class, no teacher, could quench her soul's thirst. In the meantime her parents pressured her to get married and to start a family. Eventually, after 12 years in Los Angeles, she met an Israeli man. They went to Israel for the wedding and after returning to California, they soon set off to tour the Far East. After two months of mountain trails and backpacking, their money ran out.
At that time they were in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, without a penny. They began to look for ways to earn some money. They opened a clothing factory, a few stores, then a vegetarian restaurant. The business grew and they stayed in Nepal for eight years.
During that period they became very involved in Buddhism, and met several gurus. But then, less than a year after their arrival in Katmandu, another Israeli couple arrived in town: Rabbi Chezky and Chani Lifshitz, who had come as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to open a Chabad House.
"I wasn't opposed to what they were doing, but I didn't want to get involved either. Slowly, however, the ice melted and, as almost the only two Israeli women residing in the whole country, it was natural that we became closer over time."
Chani became Iris's best friend and Iris became more and more attracted to the Chabad way. She went to less meditation sessions and more of the rabbi's classes. Then they started spending Shabbat and holidays at the Chabad House. Step-by-step she began to keep Shabbat. At first, her impetus was that she liked the idea of a day off. But later, she was keeping Shabbat for its own sake.
"When there were visitors in town who didn't feel they wanted to attend Chabad, we hosted them ourselves, up to 20 at a time. When we weren't hosting guests, we were regulars at the Chabad House." Eventually Iris "fell in love" with Judaism and her level of observance reflected this passion.
Iris' husband didn't try to prevent her from being involved, but he also wasn't a part of it. He kept up his own interests. Most of her transformation was internal, not obvious and not extreme, but inside she was very different.
Then about four years ago, Iris's brother got engaged. Believe it or not, the same brother who had been her companion in her journey of spiritual search, had also returned to his roots and was now marrying a Breslover Chasid. Iris and her husband flew to Israel for the wedding. As she accompanied her future sister-in-law in the days before the wedding, the two of them spent many long hours together, and the experience left a profound and lasting effect on Iris. Iris was particularly affected by the young bride's detailed attention to every detail of observance. She decided to take those important last steps in her own commitment, and begin dressing in a more modest fashion.
Iris returned home with her husband to Katmandu, but they soon parted ways. She returned to Israel to attend a women's yeshiva.
Iris had to travel to the Far East in order to settle her financial affairs there. A friend suggested that she include in her itinerary to spend the High Holidays in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was the experience in Crown Heights, the spirit, the warmth, the people, that made her decide to become a Lubavitcher chasid.
Far from the sunshine of Los Angeles or the mountains of Nepal where her soul-journey intensified, Iris Ahuvah is finally home.
Translated and reprinted from Mishpacha Chasidi
News from the FSU
Although the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS was forced to down-scale its construction and restoration plans, many projects were completed this past year. Among them are a new synagogue that opened in Irkutsk, the largest in Siberia, and a new synagogue in Malakhovka, near Moscow, a Jewish Community Center in Novosibirsk and Kanev, Ukraine, a Jewish school in Orenburg, major renovations on synagogues in Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, and Krivoy Rog. In addition, new kosher products in the former Soviet Union include wine that is being produced in Moldova and frozen pizza now available in Ukraine.
Excerpt of a letter, the date of which was not available
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter, in which you refer to a discussion that you had on the question of whether or not Gentiles have a neshama [soul] . . . .
I cannot see where there could have been any difference of opinion on this matter, inasmuch as it is explicitly stated in various sources, and statements are also found in various sections of Tanach [Bible] (Isaiah 42:5, 57:16), to the effect that Gentiles also have a neshama . . . .
It seems to me, therefore, that you may have been arguing at cross-purposes, and that perhaps the question related more to the fact that there are different levels and qualities of soul. Now if this was the point of contention, then it is true that the soul of the Gentile and the soul of the Jew differ in their nature, this being connected with one of the basic principles of the Torah - the fact that the Jews are a people chosen from among the nations of the world. This chosen-ness originates in the fact that when G-d was about to give the Torah at Mt. Sinai, He first offered it to all the other nations of the world, who refused to accept it.
The Jewish people did accept it. Needless to add, this is in no way inconsistent with the statement of our Sages, to the effect that the righteous among the Gentiles have a special status and, according to the Rambam [Moses Maimonides], also have a share in the World-to-Come.
Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary for me to emphasize to you what has already been indicated above, namely, that our belief in the chosen-ness of the Jewish people is not a matter of chauvinism or fanaticism, but rather the deep-felt realization that this uniqueness carries with it great responsibilities and special obligations. This is why, for example, Jews have to fulfill "Taryag (613) mitzvoth [commandments]," whereas Gentiles are not obligated to observe kashrut [kosher dietary laws] and various other restrictions connected with the idea of holiness, holiness being the essential aspect of the Jewish soul.
If I allude here to the special obligations which are incumbent upon a Jew, as a Jew, it is only for the sake of emphasizing that what is at issue is not whether a Jew should meet minimal, or even average standards, but that it is in fact incumbent upon him to attain the very maximum. In truth, this is self-evident for, inasmuch as G-d has given us the innate capacity to attain the very heights of the spiritual and the holy, it is only right that we learn how to recognize this incomparable Divine gift; while any lack of effort to utilize it to the utmost would be in the nature of a derogation. And if, in one's business or profession, one always tries to give of one's very best - for to do less would be to risk being branded a failure - how much more so in regard to spiritual capacities, which are of vital benefit not only to one's self, but also to one's surroundings and the world at large.
Celebrate Your New House or Help a Friend Celebrate
It is a Jewish custom to hold a festive meal and rejoice at a "dedication of the house," i.e., to hold a housewarming. "Inviting friends to one's new home to celebrate at a gathering at which Torah thoughts and Chasidic teachings are expounded, will be beneficial both materially and spiritually." (From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is the first day of the new month of Shevat.
Shevat is the eleventh month of the Jewish year, counting from the month of Nisan (the first month for numbering the months). The number eleven is a very special number. For, while the number ten represents fulfillment and completion, eleven transcends all levels. It is even higher than completion.
Jewish mysticism explains that the number eleven refers to Keter - the Divine crown. Ten is connected with intellect and emotions. Just as a crown is placed on top of the king's head, the crown symbolizes the will and pleasure of G-d which transcends all limitations.
On the first day of Shevat, Moses began speaking to the Jewish people the words which are contained in the book of Deuteronomy, known as the repetition of the Torah. Moses spoke to the Jewish people for 37 days, admonishing them for their past behavior, inspiring them for the future, blessing. At the conclusion of these 37 days, on the seventh of Adar, Moses, the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, passed away.
Other special days in the month of Shevat are: the tenth of Shevat, which is the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe and the ascent to leadership of the Rebbe; Tu B'Shevat or the 15th of Shevat which is the New Year for Trees; the 22nd of Shevat which is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
May we very soon see the actualization of the lofty concept of Shevat, eleven - completion, with the complete Redemption, NOW.
And G-d (Elokim) said to Moses...I am G-d (Havaya) (Ex. 6:2)
The innovation in this verse is not that G-d revealed that His Name is Havaya (the ineffable four-letter Tetragrammaton); Moses was already aware of that. Rather, with these words G-d was telling Moses that the two Names Elokim (G-d within nature), and Havaya (G-d as He transcends nature) - are united, essentially one and the same. In truth, this is the purpose of creation: that the revelation of the Name Havaya illuminate the Name Elokim.
(Sefer HaMaamarim Tav-Reish-Ayin-Beit)
And I appeared (va'eira) (Exodus 6:3)
Why does Rashi comment that G-d appeared "to the Patriarchs"? To teach us that G-d revealed Himself to them not because of their great virtue, but solely because they were the fathers of the Jewish people, and would thus pass on everything they received to their descendants forever.
And I will harden the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 7:3)
If Pharaoh deserved to be punished, why didn't G-d merely punish him without taking away his free will? Rather, Pharaoh's punishment was meted out by G-d measure for measure. Pharaoh rebelled against G-d, saying, "Who is G-d that I should obey His voice?" Anyone who insolently refuses to recognize G-d, and thinks he can do as he pleases, deserves that G-d show him he is not his own boss.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Behold, the Children of Israel have not hearkened unto me (Ex. 6:12)
What does G-d answer when Moses complains that the Jews will not listen to him? "These are the heads of their fathers' houses." The Jewish people were not to blame for their inattention to Moses' message; the fault was that of the Jewish leaders, who were closed to the idea of the redemption and unwilling to spread the message.
A man, a follower of the great tzadik (righteous person) , the Shpoler Zeide, came to him weeping bitterly. "Rebbe," he cried, "what am I to do? Stolen property was found in my courtyard, and I am being accused of being a thief. My lawyer tells me that I will not escape with less than three months in prison."
The Shpoler Zeide listened and replied, "I will be a better lawyer for you, and you will receive only one month in prison."
"But, Rebbe," the man continued, plaintively, "I am an innocent man. Why must I be punished for a month?"
"I will tell you a tale of a similar incident which occurred to me, and you will understand. Once I was staying at the home of a very hospitable Jewish customs officer. I became friendly with another guest there, and when the Shabbat ended, we made plans to continue our journey together. Unbeknownst to me, the other man had stolen some valuable pieces of silver from the house.
"As we proceeded down the road, we heard the sounds of a carriage approaching very fast. The man asked me to watch his pack for a moment and he disappeared in the mass of trees. The carriage stopped in front of me and I recognized the customs officer and a gentile officer.
"'Seize him,'" the Jew cried. "'He is the thief!'
"And before I knew what was happening they threw me into the back of the carriage and we drove away. When I recovered from the initial shock, I tried to explain that it was not I, but the other man who had stolen the silver, but they scorned my words. It was obviously nothing would avail, and I accepted it as the will of Heaven.
"I was thrown into a cell full of frightening criminals who found my appearance an occasion for great mirth. They pulled at my sidelocks and beard, and I could only entreat the One Above to rescue me from their evil clutches. They tried to extort money from me, but when they saw I had none, they set out to beat me.
"The first one laid into me as two others held me down. As soon as his hand touched me, he cried out in pain. His hand swelled and gushed with blood. The thieves and murderers who surrounded me took conference with one another. One said I was a sorcerer, another claimed I was a saint; regardless of their opinion, they all agreed to leave me alone.
"When the immediate danger had passed, I looked around at the other prisoners. One, called "Gypsy" turned out to be, instead, a Polish Jew who had been imprisoned for horse-stealing. I realized that I had been incarcerated precisely in order to help this pathetic man repent. Little by little we spoke and I gained his trust. He related a sad tale of being orphaned and then falling in with a band of Gypsies, whose ways he adopted.
"One morning the man came to me in a state of terror. He had dreamed of his dead parents who told him to do whatever I would instruct him. They said if he refused, he would die in his sleep. From that moment on he was the most willing penitent.
"Slowly, I instructed him in the Jewish religion. He stopped eating forbidden food, began to recite prayers, and begged the Al-mighty to forgive his errant ways. After several weeks passed, he even began sleeping near me and became completely attached to me in word and deed.
"A few days later I dreamed that Eliyahu told me to flee from that place and go to the town of Zlotopoli where I would be offered the position of beadle of the town. But then I remembered the "Gypsy," and my promise not to abandon him. But, I reasoned, if a miracle could come about for me, it could come about for him, too.
"I told the repentant man to follow me. When we came to the first door, we saw it was open. He held my belt and we passed through the door together, and continued into the black night, with no thought as to where we were going. Many hours later, we stopped at the house of a Jew who told us that we had found the path to Zlotopoli.
"Three days later, we arrived in the town, and I was appointed to the position of beadle. So you see, don't complain about the judgements of G-d, for they are very deep and beyond the understanding of men. Just be strong in your faith, for I can assure you that everything that happens, no matter how it appears, is only for the good. And, as I promised, you will sit in prison no more than one month."
The name of this month, Shevat, relates to the Hebrew word shevet meaning "staff" that is associated with the concept of authority and kingship as it is written, "The shevet will not depart from Judah." The most perfect expression of this concept will be in the Era of the Redemption, with the assumption of sovereignty by Moshiach. And thus on the verse, "And a shevet will arise in Israel," Maimonides comments, "This refers to the King Moshiach."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 28 Tevet, 5752-1992)