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Hand-washing and hand-wringing - two closely associated activities. One indicates cleanliness, courtesy, attention to details and to health. The other indicates indecision, weakness of character, even fear or guilt.
It's almost as if we wring our hands when we can't wash our hands - when we are dirty - physically, emotionally, psychologically - and can't rid ourselves of the dirt, we wring our hands. When we can cleanse ourselves, we are no longer insecure and on edge.
A new scientific study confirms the power within washing our hands, how the simple act gives us ease of mind, and makes us comfortable with our choices.
The study focused on how we react after we make a decision. It is human nature to want to be right. So once we make a choice we often rationalize our decision, to make ourselves comfortable with what we have decided - even beyond reason.
This difference in perception - between what we know we did and how we wish to view our decision - is called "cognitive dissonance" - call it the perceived distance between desire and reality. (There may be none, but if we perceive a gap, for us, it's there.)
Scientists conducted an experiment, testing the effect of hand washing on cognitive dissonance.
It reduced it. In other words, people who washed their hands after making a decision were more comfor-table with the choices they had made.
One of the scientists concluded that the "hand-washing effect" applies not only to "intense, morally profound situations, but that it reduces the influence of past behaviors and decisions that have no moral implications whatsoever."
Nevertheless, we know that Judaism teaches that no act, no behavior, no decision is without moral implication. Everything we do - indeed, everything we say or think - has, by definition, a moral implication, since being moral is what truly distinguishes a human being. A moral person - a person of mitzvos - is an individual aware of the potential goodness or holiness in every act, every word, every thought.
And so we should not be surprised that the Torah and our Sages were aware that hand-washing has a transformative power - not just the potential to clean the dirt off our hands, but to remove the spiritual impurities we may have collected, even unwittingly, throughout the day.
In Temple times, the priests had to perform a ritual washing of the hands before performing the service in the Temple - perhaps symbolizing the removal of spiritual doubts and uncertainties. And today, before we eat a meal with bread, before making the HaMotzi blessing, we too wash our hands, in a way bringing our perception - that the world is a separate independent existence - more in line with the reality that the world is dependent on the G-dly force that gives it life.
And, from one perspective even more significant, our Sages instituted a ritual washing of the hands immediately upon waking - without a blessing, before getting dressed, even, if possible, before getting completely out of bed! (For this reason, many keep a cup and basin by their bedside.)
This wake-up washing removes the spiritual impurities that accumulated during the night, removes, at least ritually, the moral doubts, and allows us to declare, with the first words out of mouth, Modeh Ani - I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
This week's Torah portion, Shelach, contains the account of the twelve spies sent to scout out the land of Israel. Upon their return they announced, "We will not be able to go against the people, for they are stronger than we - mimenu."
Our Sages explain that the Hebrew word "mimenu" may also be interpreted "than him" - than Him! The spies insisted that the Canaanites were even more powerful than G-d, Who had promised the land to the Jews.
How could they have made such a statement? The 12 spies were men of distinction and piety. Furthermore, the entire Jewish people had just witnessed the greatest open miracles - the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea and the manna from the sky. Why wasn't the spies' report simply discounted, instead of being given such credence?
When the spies insisted that the Land was too well fortified to be conquered, Calev stood up and calmed the people. "Don't worry," he insisted. "The same G-d who performed all these miracles for us will continue to guard His people. Let us go up at once, without fear!"
"But," countered the spies, "there we saw the nefilim, the sons of Anak!" Who were these nefilim, that their mention threw fear into the hearts of the Jews? The great commentator, Rashi, explains that the nefilim were people of gigantic stature, descendents of two angels who had descended to earth many years before during the generation of Enosh. Their very name - "nefilim" - attests to their descent, from the root word meaning "to fall."
Yes, conceded the spies, G-d is certainly more powerful than mere mortals. But can G-d prevail against the nefilim and their higher level of spirituality? The nefilim had even survived the great flood which destroyed the rest of the world. These two angels, who came down into the world with the best and holiest of intentions, were unable to withstand the lure of the material world. They and their descendents ended up degraded and debased. If angels, the spies contended, have failed, how much more so will we if we even attempt to conquer the Land. Let us simply reject the material world and remain in the wilderness!
To this, two of the spies, Joshua and Calev, replied, "No, this is not G-d's plan. G-d wants us to live in the physical world, performing physical mitzvot (commandments). 'Do not fear...for G-d is with us'." Angels may not be equipped to deal with this world, but we are even higher than the angels, for we possess a G-dly soul in a corporeal body. We have the power to fuse the physical with the spiritual, by performing concrete mitzvot which bring holiness into the world and make it a dwelling place for G-d. Thus, we can withstand any negative force, not only emerging triumphant, but transforming those very forces into instruments of good.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Eliyahu and Malka Touger
Professor Yirmeyahu (Herman) Branover achieved world-wide renown as an authority on magneto-hydrodynamics. Research in this area of alternative energy technology is carried out by a limited number of highly trained professionals. Raised in the then Soviet Union, Professor Branover's published research had won him an international reputation in this field in the '60s.
Along with his work on hydrodynamics, Professor Branover has a dynamic Jewish heart. He applied for an emigration visa to Israel, knowing that it would mark the end of his professional career in the Soviet Union. He was dismissed from his post at the Academy of Sciences in Riga and prevented from continuing his research.
During this time, he was exposed to the Torah and mitzvot (commandments) by members of the Lubavitch Chasidic underground. When he was finally allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel in 1972, he was already fully observant.
After moving to Israel, Professor Branover was in constant demand as a lecturer, but not only in his profession. He was frequently invited to lecture on science and Torah. Campus audiences around the globe were extremely interested to hear an internationally renowned scientist reconcile his belief in the Torah with the supposed conflicts emerging from modern science.
"In the winter of 1973," relates Professor Branover, "I was on a lecture tour in the United States. Towards the end of the two-month tour, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov requested that I add the University of Pennsylvania to my itinerary. My wife and I were both weary from the constant travel, but our commitment to spread Torah motivated us to agree.
"Shortly before the scheduled date, I was privileged to visit the Rebbe at yechidut (a private meeting). Among other matters, I mentioned the trip to Philadelphia. The Rebbe inquired about the details of the program and commented: 'During your stay in Philadelphia, do not forget to introduce yourself to a local professor who has an interest in your field.'
"The Rebbe's statement baffled me. I was well acquainted with the names of the American scientists involved in magneto-hydrodynamics and I knew the universities with which they were associated. I was certain that no Philadelphian was familiar with my field.
"I made the trip to Philadelphia following the busy schedule of lectures. On the morning of my arrival, when Rabbi Shemtov met me at the train station, I spoke about my encounter with the Rebbe. I mentioned the Rebbe's strange remark and added that it appeared to be an error.
" 'The Rebbe does not make mistakes,' Rabbi Shemtov said emphatically. 'Allow me to assist you in locating the scientist.'
"Rabbi Shemtov convinced me to visit Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania and to check the faculties of these institutions. After many hours of searching, we were introduced to Professor Hsuan Yeh. It was a refreshing change of pace to engage in a sophisticated discussion with a person who was clearly knowledgeable in magneto-hydrodynamics.
As we concluded our conversation, Professor Yeh said: 'In six weeks there will be a Magneto-Hydrodynamic Energy Convention at Stanford University in California. Although the program is already finalized, I will insist that your name be added to the list of lecturers. A colleague who has arrived so recently from Russia should be given the opportunity to present his thoughts.'
"I looked at him in surprise. 'Didn't you just say that the program was finalized?'
Professor Yeh added with a smile, 'You see, I am on the program committee.'
"I appreciated the Professor's offer, and yet I graciously declined, explaining that both my wife and I were anxious to return to our home in Israel. The trip had already been extended more than we would have liked.
"I returned to New York and we prepared to return home. Just before leaving, I wrote the Rebbe a report of our trip to Philadelphia, mentioning my encounter with Professor Yeh. Once again, the Rebbe made an unexpected statement. He advised me to reschedule my plans and to accept the invitation, for the convention presented an important opportunity.
"My wife and I were taken by surprise by the Rebbe's response. Despite the need to rearrange our plans, we were acquainted enough with the Rebbe to value his advice. I called Professor Yeh, who was happy to arrange for me to deliver a lecture.
"The significance of my participation at the convention became clear very rapidly. I met two representatives of the Office of Naval Research in Virginia who had read about my work, and who were prepared to finance further research. They added, 'We understand that you want to establish your laboratory in Israel, and we are willing to provide you with funds for your work there.'
"As a result, I set up a laboratory in Beer Sheva, which gained worldwide recognition for its magneto-hydrodynamics research. My contract with the Office of Naval Research was renewed six times since that original grant. I could not have imagined at that point how valuable and far-reaching the Rebbe's advice had been.
From To Know and To Care, published by Sichos in English
Saying Mazel Tov?
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health depends on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our declaration of dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. To get a color print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
13 Iyar, 5738 (1978)
I am in receipt of your letter of May 18, in which you write about your present state and feelings towards Jews, Yiddishkeit [Judaism], the Torah, etc., which you blame on the attitude towards you on the part of the yeshiva and its students.
Needless to say, the connection is most surprising, for it is plain and obvious that a Jew, whoever he may be, who believes in the Torah and does his best to observe its mitzvoth [commandments], does so because of his personal commitment to G-d's Torah and mitzvoth, which were given to each and every Jew at Sinai, and as our Sages tell us, the souls of all Jews of all generations were present there and accepted the Torah and mitzvoth.
Hence, if a Jew should declare, G-d forbid, that he does not accept the Ten Commandments because his friends or teachers do not conduct themselves as they should, I do not think that anyone will say that this is a proper or sensible approach.
To put it a different way: If a teacher whom you respect will say that two times two is five, it is incorrect; and if a teacher whom you do not respect will say that two times two is four, it is nevertheless correct, for truth is independent. Judging by your writing, there is surely no need to elaborate to you on what is evident.
As for your complaint about your friends' attitude towards you -- it is also clear that neither I nor anyone else can make a judgment on this without first hearing what both sides have to say.
Now, let us assume - from your point of view - that you have reason to complain; surely you know, and must have seen it yourself in other situations where people have a disagreement, that in every dispute between two people it is impossible that one should be 100% right and the other 100% wrong. It would be rare indeed, if it ever happened, although one does not have to be 100% right to win his case: 99% against 1% is also sufficient.
But when one of the two parties who is personally involved, and consequently subjective, claims to be 100% right and all the others 100% wrong, this is most extraordinary. Don't you think that someone who examines the whole situation objectively may find you also wrong, at least to the extent of 1%?
If this be very likely, how is it that you didn't mention anything about it in your letter, not even by as much as a hint?
All that has been said above is by way of response to your writing, dealing with the "letter" as distinct from the "spirit."
The crucial point, however, is that it suffices to consider the fact that Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvoth, and the Jewish people have survived 3,500 years of persecution, pogroms, the Holocaust, etc., (our nation is alive and thriving to this day, while many powerful nations and "civilizations" have disappeared without a remnant) - to be convinced (despite your assertions in the beginning of your letter) that the Torah is Toras Emes [the Torah of Truth], and its mitzvoth are Emes, and that "they are our life and the length of our days," both for the Jewish people as a whole and for every Jew individually.
It is also self-understood that G-d desires Jews to observe His mitzvoth not for His benefit, but for the benefit of the one who live s in accordance with G-d's Will.
In light of the above, I hope and trust that you will do all that is in your power to learn the Torah with devotion and diligence and to fulfill the mitzvoth with extra "beauty" - not because I or anyone else tells you to do this, but because it is the truth itself, as has been amply verified by the uninterrupted history of our people from generation to generation.
And although this is an obvious "must" for its own sake, it is also the channel to receive G-d's blessing for success in all your needs, as well as for your parents and all your dear ones.
YOSEF (Joseph) means, "G-d will add." Yosef was one of the twelve sons of Yakov from his wife, Rachel (Genesis 30:24). There were many great sages with the name Yosef. A variant form is Yosi, the name of many Jerusalem and Babylonian scholars. Yosel is the Yiddish diminutive form.
YEDIDA means "beloved of G-d." Yedida was the mother of King Yoshiayahu - Josia (Kings II 22:1).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Summer is a great time for kids. Without the pressures of school, children have the opportunity to spend their summer vacation in enjoyable and educational pursuits. The summer schedule is particularly suitable for children to grow spiritually, by attending a day or overnight camp with a vibrant, exciting and Torah-true Jewish atmosphere.
Each year, without exception, as the summer approached, the Rebbe emphasized the importance of Jewish children attending Jewish camps. The amount that a child can learn in the summer, unencumbered by the pursuit of reading, writing and arithmetic, goes far beyond what he can accomplish at any other time of year. And, as this knowledge is being imparted in an atmosphere of fun and excitement, in an environment totally saturated with Jewish pride, it remains with a child long after the summer months are over.
It's still not too late to enroll your child in a Jewish camp. And it's certainly not too late to facilitate other children attending a Jewish camp if you do not have camp-age kids. By calling your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, you can find out about a summer camp experience for someone you know whose benefit will last a lifetime.
By the way, adults, too, should take advantage of the more relaxed atmosphere of summer to revitalize and nourish themselves Jewishly. Try a Jewish retreat or even just a weekly Torah class to enhance your Jewish pride and knowledge.
And may this summer be our last one in exile and our first in the Era of the Redemption.
Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments...and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a thread of blue (Num. 15:38)
This was done in ancient times; today, however, we do not know how to make this blue dye, and all eight threads of the tzitzit (fringes) are white. Symbolically, blue alludes to fear of G-d and avoiding the negative ("depart from evil"). White alludes to love, and the service of doing good deeds ("and do good"). From this we learn that in our times, the primary thrust of our Divine service must consist of love and positive actions.
And it shall be to you for fringes, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the L-rd (Num. 15:39)
Rabbi Meir explained: The Torah uses the singular "it" rather than the plural "them" because it is referring here to the Divine Presence: "Whoever fulfills the commandment of tzitzit is considered to be greeting G-d's countenance." The "blue thread" resembles the sea, which resembles grass, which resembles the sky, which should remind the wearer of the Throne of Glory.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Brachot)
Making a sign to remind oneself to do something is always helpful and appropriate. A person shouldn't rely on memory alone, regardless of whether the obligation is physical or spiritual.
That you may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy to your G-d (Num. 15:40)
Said Rabbi Chanina ben Antignos: Whoever observes the mitzva of tzitzit will merit to live in the times about which the Prophet Zechariah said, "In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men from the nations of every language shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that G-d is with you."
Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua was a great Sage in the times of the Talmud.
The Midrash relates that on one stormy day he was walking along the beach. As he gazed out on the wild sea he saw a ship sinking beneath the waves. It seemed to him that a small speck was floating on a plank, traveling parallel to the shore.
He strained his eyes on that point and realized that the speck which clung to the wooden board was a person.
Finally the plank with its dripping passenger landed ashore. The man, having been stripped of his clothing by the waves, hid himself among the seaside plants which clustered on the beach. But when he saw the Jews passing along the shore he called out to them, "Please, take pity on me and give me some clothing. I was tossed up on this beach by the vicious storm which carried away all that I had. I am one of the sons of Esau, your brother. Please help me."
But to his horror, no one showed the least inclination to help him. On the contrary, several men laughed at his predicament, answering, "May all of your brethren be similarly tossed about," and continued on their way. The Edomite was cold and exhausted from his ordeal. Finally, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua approached, and the man called out again in despair, "Sir, I can see that you are a respected person amongst your people. Surely you appreciate that some respect must be given to G-d's creatures. Please give me some garment to put on to cover my nakedness. All of my clothing was torn from me by the storm which I barely survived."
Rabbi Elazar was a very wealthy man. He was wearing seven beautiful and costly garments, one of which he took off and gave to the man. Then he took the Edomite to his home where he revived him with food and drink. He presented the man with 200 dinars, set him in his carriage and drove him towards his home, all with the greatest kindness and respect.
After some time, the king of that land died and the people chose the Edomite as their new king. Hatred for the Jews burned in him, and one of his first decrees upon assuming the throne was to issue a terrible decree against them - that all the men be killed and the women be taken as wives by whomever wished. A long time he had waited to take revenge for the carelessly cruel remark: "May all your people be tossed around so."
The Jews were panic-stricken. How could they convince the new king to annul his deadly decree? They went to the Torah Sage and leader, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua, who was known for his great wisdom and begged him to intercede on their behalf with the king.
"I will go to the palace and try to speak with him," Rabbi Elazar agreed, "but you know that no authorities do anything without payment." The people collected the tremendous sum of 4000 dinars and gave the money to Rabbi Elazar; perhaps he would succeed in buying their lives. Rabbi Elazar set off on the long journey to the royal palace, ransom money in hand.
When he arrived in the capital, he went to the palace where he asked to be announced to the king. Permission was granted and he was led into the throne room. When the king recognized Rabbi Elazar, he threw himself at the Sage's feet crying, "Why have you troubled yourself to travel this great distance to see me, my benefactor?"
"I have come to intercede for the Jews, to beg you to cancel your decree against them."
"You are a great rabbi. Tell me, are there any falsehoods in your Torah?"
"No," replied Rabbi Elazar. "Everything in the Torah is true and just."
"I will ask further: Is it not written 'An Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G-d because they met you not with bread and water on the way'? And also does it not say that 'An Edomite thou shalt not abhor, for he is your brother'? I am an Edomite, and yet the Jews showed me no pity in my darkest hour of need. Therefore they deserve the death penalty."
Rabbi Elazar listened to all the king said and then replied simply, "You are correct that they sinned against you, but still, show them compassion."
The king agreed to obey Rabbi Elazar, but he said, "No king annuls a decree for nothing."
"The people have given me 4,000 dinars for your majesty. Please, take them and redeem my people."
"I will take those 4,000 dinars and I hereby present them to you in payment for the 200 dinars you so kindly gave me. Furthermore, to reward you for giving me your cloak, I present you with 70 robes from my royal storehouse. In gratitude for the food and drink with which you restored my soul, I will redeem your people. Now, return to them in peace, for if it were not for your kindness, they would have no reprieve from my justice."
In the Era of the Redemption, Israel will be divided into 13 portions, a portion for each tribe including Levi. The tribe of Levi did not receive a portion in Israel, for the Levites were set aside to serve G-d and to instruct the Jewish people. This applies in the present era, when the material nature of the world prevents a person from being both totally dedicated to G-d and simultaneously involved in the world. In the Era of the Redemption, however, there will be no need for the Levites to set themselves aside from worldly involvement. Thus, they too will receive a portion of the Land.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Shelach, 5751-1991)