The Perfect Time | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | What's In A Name | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Putting on your shoes. Opening a package of food. Responding to an inquiry about one's health.
These, and many other daily activities, are part of our Divine service.
In small, seemingly insignificant ways that we cannot possibly enumerate comprehensively, we bring the spiritual into the mundane, thereby creating a comfortable place for G-d in this world.
Whenever the Rabbi of Ternigrad visited the Chozeh of Lublin, the Chozeh always made a point of personally attending to his guest's needs in some way, thus fulfilling the mitzva (commandment) of serving on a Torah scholar.
Once, after serving his guest coffee, the Chozeh washed out the cup and returned it to its place.
The rabbi asked why the Chozeh troubled himself with this detail.
The Chozeh replied: "When the High Priest took out the empty incense spoon and the ash pan from the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, this too was part of the Divine service of the day."
G-d gives us the incredible opportunity to infuse the most mundane areas of our lives with spirituality.
When putting on shoes, Jewish law instructs us to first put on our right shoe, then our left. Then we are to tie our left shoe followed by our right. "Is the Torah trying to dictate our every action and move, each thought and emotion?" one might wonder.
Not at all! The Torah is giving us the chance to connect with the Divine even when performing a trite, unimportant act.
Incidentally, the order to use when putting on and tying shoes teaches us not to show favoritism, not to select one side over another. Through our interaction with an inanimate object we become habituated to benevolence!
When you open a package of food on Shabbat or a holiday, don't tear through the letters, thereby "erasing" a word. Picayune, inane? No way! We are being sensitized. We are being taught how to bring holiness into every action, every breath, every thought.
When someone asks how you are, you can respond, "Thank G-d, I'm doing just fine." You have just shown gratitude to Your Creator. And, you have reminded yourself and the other person that there is a G-d in the world.
The Talmud states: "The transgressors of Israel are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate with seeds."
No wonder. It's so simple to do mitzvot. We are infinitely lucky that G-d makes it so easy for us.
The fact is that opportunities to do mitzvot easily and painlessly, are endless: Greet people with a smile; say, "Have a good, sweet new year; drop a coin in a tzedaka (charity) box; give your seat to an elderly person; tie your shoes the "Torah" way; buy the ketchup with the kosher symbol instead of the one without a kosher symbol; check the egg for blood before you cook or bake with it. The list goes on.
When we realize how simple it is to do mitzvot, it entices us to want to do some that require a little spiritual elbow-grease.
Though any day is auspicious, the days before Rosh Hashana are a perfect time to choose a new mitzva to undertake for the upcoming year.
This week we read two Torah portion, Nitzavim and Yayeilech. Toward the end of this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, Moses summarizes his parting message to the Jewish people: "For this commandment, which I command you this day, is not concealed from you nor is it far off... But the thing is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it." In other words, it is not too difficult to love G-d and observe His commandments; in fact, keeping Torah and mitzvot (commandments) is "very close."
In truth, this is an astounding claim. How could anyone maintain that keeping the commandments is easy? According to human nature, a person's inclinations are physical and materialistic. How can these natural desires be transformed so simply into a spiritual love for G-d?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi offers an explanation in his seminal work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, the Tanya. The key to this "closeness" is the fact that every single Jew already possesses a hidden love for G-d in his heart. Rather than creating something new, all that is necessary is to uncover and awaken this inherent love. As it already exists, it is literally quite "near," and can be revealed with only a modicum of effort.
However, while it may be relatively easy to achieve the emotion of love for G-d, what about the practicality of keeping the Torah's 613 commandments? Isn't this the very antithesis of "easy"?
The answer is found on the introductory page of the Tanya, where Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes that he "will explain, with the help of G-d, how it is indeed exceedingly close, in a long and short way."
On the one hand, an enormous amount of effort is required to contemplate G-d's greatness to reveal one's innate love for Him until it affects the daily conduct. However, although this may seem to be the "long" and circuitous route to achieving this goal, it is also ultimately the "shortest" and most reliable method. When a Jew meditates upon G-d's greatness, the love and awe he arouses are permanent and lasting, imbuing all of his Torah and mitzvot with vitality and enthusiasm.
Of course, a Jew may also take the "shorter" route, relying on his intrinsic but hidden love for G-d, without resorting to intellectual contemplation. However, such an approach will ultimately prove to be "longer" and more arduous if it remains an abstraction, removed and disconnected from his daily existence.
By studying Torah and contemplating G-d's greatness, a Jew acquires a deeper and more lasting understanding, enabling him to keep Torah and mitzvot more easily.
Adapted from Vol. 34 of Likutei Sichot
Make Time for the Dime
by Naomi Zirkind
It was a hot, sunny day. I was at the train station, waiting for a train to New York City during morning rush hour, and had just finished buying my ticket from the ticket vending machine on the platform. I was looking for a place to sit while I waited for the train, but all the benches were drenched with bright, hot sunlight. The only shady spot to wait at was in the shadow of the ticket machines. I situated myself there to wait for the train.
Taking a survey of my surroundings, I noticed a dime on the ground near the ticket machine. I would have liked to pick it up, but it was right next to the line of people who were waiting to use the machine. I would have had to move into their "personal space" to pick up the dime, and felt that that might be a chilul Hashem (an act which, when performed by someone who is clearly Jewish, reflects poorly on G-d and on the Jewish people). I decided to wait until all the people in line had finished purchasing their tickets and had left the area, and I would then pick up the dime.
That didn't happen - new people continually joined the line of people waiting to use the ticket machine. Ultimately, I gave up on the possibility of picking up the dime - it seemed that there would be no suitable opportunity to do so. However, being a scientist at heart, I decided to carefully observe the scene and see what conclusions, if any, I could come to. I wanted to see which person standing on line, if any, would actually pick up the dime. I would note what kind of person he or she was.
I waited anxiously as one person after another took his/her turn to purchase tickets from the machine. To my increasing surprise, no one picked up the dime. About 25 people stood in the line - and right near the dime - before the train arrived and I had to conclude my observations.
But now, what could I learn from this experience? The Baal Shem Tov encourages us to find a lesson in everything we see or hear.
How could it be that not one of these people picked up the dime? What were they so preoccupied with that made them oblivious to the free treasure lying on the ground right next to them?
It seemed that each person was either focusing on his imminent purchase, plugged into some earphones and concentrating on their output, or staring blankly into space - perhaps not fully awake yet. Surprisingly enough, one group of three people came to buy tickets, and while they were standing next to the ticket machine, one of them was actually standing on top of the dime! Still, no one noticed it.
The ignored dime reminded me of a parable I read, which illustrates the relationship between Jews, G-d, and the Torah in this world. In this parable, a great king decides, out of love for his people, to make available to his people his precious treasures. He decides to put his treasures into a box, and put the box in a public place where everyone could take what they want. However, he realizes that if he does this, the quickest people will empty out the box, leaving nothing for the slower people. To prevent this from happening, he decides to set up a carnival right next to the box, in order to distract those who were not truly interested in the king's treasures. These people would be distracted by the carnival, and would not notice the treasure. Only those who really admired the king would ignore the carnival and go for his treasures.
In this parable, the king is G-d, the box of treasures is the Torah, and the carnival is the preoccupation with day-to-day matters that is constantly demanding our attention. Although G-d's Torah does not get "used up" no matter how many people partake of it, G-d puts the "carnival" there to prod us to diligently seek out His treasures.
At the train station, I saw this parable in action. The dime was like the treasure, and the ticket machine was like the carnival.
So many of us are so preoccupied with their inner world, or so focused on their immediate task, that we tend to become oblivious to the real purpose for which we were created - to serve G-d by learning His Torah and carrying out His commandments. Everywhere we turn, there is a mitzvah opportunity - a chance to tap into the treasure of G-dliness that is always available to us. We just have to train (no pun intended) ourselves to remain alert to these G-dly treasures that are all around us, and to "pick them up" when we find them.
For example, say a kind word to someone, notice G-d's kindness to you or the marvels of His creation, help someone who needs your help, contemplate the way G-d directs all events. In short, "Make time for the dime."
Dr. Naomi Zirkind works as a Lead Engineer for the U.S. Army. She works on improving the capabilities of robots to make safe or destroy bombs. She is also a homemaker for her husband and eight children.
The "mitzva of the day" on Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar blown. In addition to High Holiday services, your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center will have a special Shofar Ceremony to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to fulfill this important commandment. Call your local Center to find out what special programs they are having for Rosh Hashana. While you're at it, ask them about all their events for the flurry of festivals in the upcoming weeks - Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Have Shofar Will Travel
As in years past, the Lubavitch Youth Organization has arranged for hundreds of volunteers to walk to hospitals and nursing homes throughout the New York Metro area on Rosh Hashana so that those who will not be able to attend synagogue services will still be able to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Hundreds of volunteers will also been dispatched to prisons throughout the tri-state area either before Rosh Hashana for pre-holiday programming or they will be sent on Rosh Hashana eve to lead services for incarcerated Jews.
25 Elul, 5718 (1968)
The month of Elul, especially the Days of Selichot and the Ten Days of Repentance, is the time dedicated to sincere introspection and a careful and honest examination of the record of the outgoing year, with a view to the proper deductions and resolutions which are to regulate one's personal daily life, as well as that of his home, and all his affairs in the year to come.
Moreover, these are exceptionally propitious days, days permeated with the core of the Psalm recited twice daily: "Search my inwardness: Thy inner essence, O G-d, do I seek" (Ps. 27:8).
They call and demand:
Search for the innermost and the profound within you; seek out also the inwardness of everything around you, the soul of the universe; search for and bring to light the G-dliness that animates and pervades the world!
Both aspects - the honest self-appraisal and the search for the inner essence of things - are interrelated and interdependent.
In evaluating the results of the outgoing year, one is very prone to err by taking into account only the external, both in himself and in the environment. In doing so, one is on equally treach-erous grounds in regard to setting the pattern of daily living in the year to come.
To forestall this misleading approach, these auspicious days sound their message and challenge: Do not sell yourself short! Do not underestimate your capacities and abilities!
For, no matter what your spiritual "stock-in-trade" is, your "visible assets" - the existing possibilities that you have to conduct your life in accord with the teachings of our Torah, no matter how formidable is your strength of character and your ability to cope with a frustrating environment, and with undaunted perseverance to follow the path of the Torah and its mitzvoth [commandments], much greater and richer are your "hidden reserves" of powers to create new possibilities, and of inner qualities giving you the ability to overcome obstacles and to shape your life and the lives around you to be in harmony with truth and goodness.
In order to reveal and apply these powers, however, it is necessary that you search for and release your potential forces. But you are promised: "You will discover - because you will search with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 4:29)
What has been said above is more especially and more fully applicable to those who occupy positions of spiritual leadership and influence, from the rabbi of the community down to the individual parent who sets the pace of the spiritual life of the household and family.
All too often do we see them stymied by doubt and fear, afraid to use, what seems to them, a strong word or excessive demand lest they might alienate, instead of attract.
To them these days address themselves with this message and challenge: Search inwardly; seek deeply and you will unravel the innermost treasures of those whom you would lead and inspire; evaluate them not externally, but according to their inner resources, according to the capacity of their soul, the veritable spark of G-dliness from Above.
For with the right approach and by indefatigable effort you will be able to uncover and activate in everyone his inner spiritual resources, so that he begins to animate his daily life.
Have confidence in your fellow-Jew and give him what he, as a Jew, truly expects from you: the whole Torah with all its precepts, unvarnished and untarnished, as it was given from Sinai, in its true eternity, for the Torah is eternal for all times and places.
Only through this approach can one attain a true estimation of oneself and of those who look up to you for guidance and leadership, a true estimation that will make the year a full year - full in content and achievement commensurate with your fullest resources, and also full of G-d's blessings, materially and spiritually.
BINYAMIN means "son of my right hand," connoting strength. Binyamin was the youngest of Jacob's 12 sons (Gen. 35:18). His mother, Rachel, died right after giving birth to him.
BATYA means "daughter of G-d." Batya was King Pharaoh's daughter, the woman who saved Moshe from imminent death and mothered him. She was so great that, our Sages say, she went straight to Heaven alive.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Since the beginning of the month of Elul we've been doing teshuva, getting rid of negative baggage and "cleaning up our act" before Rosh Hashana. But this Saturday night we're going to really get down to business, as Jews around the world go to the synagogue to recite Selichot. These special penitential prayers are the next stage of our preparation for the High Holidays.
Chasidic philosophy makes the following distinction: During the month of Elul, we concentrate on improving our thought, speech and deed. But when we say Selichot, we focus on an even deeper level of the soul and correct the emotive powers themselves.
Though it sounds serious, Chasidim have always approached Selichot (like everything else!) with a sense of joy, rather than sadness and gloom. We look forward to the opportunity to reach even higher levels of holiness and sanctity.
The Rebbe Rashab, quoting Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained one of the lines in the Selichot thusly: "The needs of Your people are great, and their knowledge is narrow and limited." Our needs are many precisely because our knowledge is limited. If our knowledge were "wider," our needs would be fewer.
The pursuit of luxuries, adds the Rebbe, can even diminish the "regular" measure of blessing a person would otherwise receive. Because our "knowledge is limited" we demand too much, over-inflating our importance and assuming that G-d "owes" us. Our "needs" tend to multiply when we put too much emphasis on material rather than spiritual concerns.
Nonetheless, the Rebbe concludes, "Our request from G-d is that He fulfill all the needs of His people, even though what we ask for stems from a deficiency in knowledge. And may every single Jew lack for nothing."
And they will say on that day, is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have overtaken me? (Deut. 31:17)
Every Jew must believe that G-d is with him and within him wherever he goes, even in times of trouble. It is only when our belief falters and we forget G-d's presence that "these evils" are given the opportunity to occur.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa)
And also with him that is not here with us this day. (Deut. 29:14)
When a Jew enters into a covenant with G-d by keeping His Torah and mitzvot, every Jew, of every generation past and present, is present at his side.
One need not therefore be concerned that the Jews are "the least of the nations," for our eternal bond with G-d, in the cumulative sense, is truly monumental and awesome.
Gather the people together, men, women and children (Deut. 31:12)
Rashi asks: Why were the children included? To reward the parents who brought them. G-d helps parents raise their children to be G-d-fearing and upright to the same degree that they put their efforts into the task.
And call heaven and earth to witness against them (Deut. 31:28)
They, the Jewish people, will be My witnesses, testifying that I created heaven and earth. For it is through the Jews that the world comes to know that G-d is the Creator and that He constantly oversees His handiwork.
The Chasid stood in his inn serving his customers. Today Ivan and Grisha had gotten into a fist fight once again, and he had thrown them out the door, telling them to take their business elsewhere. Stasha had refused to pay up his bill which had mounted to a whopping five rubles. The noise, the swearing and constant drunken arguments were more than the Chasid could stand. Some days he could hardly force himself to open the tavern door to patrons. "Malka," he would tell his wife, "I just have to find some other livelihood, I can't stand it any longer." But, in truth, what else could he, a man with six growing children, find to do in the village?
"Every day and every night," the tavern keeper thought, "my whole week is spent in the company of these coarse peasants, whose hours are spent guzzling vodka, then sinking into drunken stupors or engaging in senseless, vulgar brawls. How can I help but decline in my service to G-d when I spend all my days in such a place?" Then he would once again weigh his options and fall into despair.
Finally, he decided that he would pay a visit to Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the Shpoler Zeide. The tzadik would certainly have some words of advice for him and help him to extricate himself from his terrible situation. Arriving at the home of the tzadik, he was admitted into his study and soon launched into an explanation of his problem. The Chasid explained that he stood in a tavern all day, dispensing drinks to all manner of low folks, and he was concerned that he might fall into their ways, simply by virtue of the constant contact. On the other hand, he had a family, many obligations to his children, his wife, his elderly parents; he felt trapped. There must be a way out for him...
The rabbi listened quietly to his complaints, allowing the poor, distraught man to vent his feelings. Then the tzadik said with an understanding smile, "From what you have told me, I understand you'd prefer to fulfill your obligations to your Creator in a different way. Perhaps, by being awarded a bag full of gold coins, living in an elaborate palace, filled with holy books, being clothed in the finest silken garb, with a fur hat atop your head it would be easier to be a good Jew! Were all of those conditions to be met, you'd surely be able to learn Torah and perform mitzvot with a clear mind, with a complete heart, without being burdened with every care in the world.
"Well, my dear friend, you have it completely wrong. That's not the Divine plan. G-d wants that you, burdened with all the problems that stalk you through your days- lack of money to meet your bills at the end of the month, children to marry off, vulgar peasants yelling at you to hurry up with their drink - with all of that, He wants you to be a good Jew.
"My friend, it is His will that you take all of these distractions and put them aside in order to perform His will, even when you feel that you will shatter into pieces. When you cleave to Him, in the face of all these hardships and long for the rare moments of solitude when you might fulfill the desire of your heart to say a few precious words of prayer to Him, then G-d gets the greatest joy from your service. If all He desired was effortless praise, He would be satisfied with His myriad troops of angels who utter, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" without stop. No, He desires your heart, which you give Him in the face of your daily hardships - that is true service.
"I advise you, instead of complaining how difficult it is to make a living in your rough tavern atmosphere, give thanks to Him, for He has provided you with an opportunity to elevate yourself to a place of such sanctity that no other test would have afforded you. Indeed, G-d has given you a great gift, and you should cherish it."
There was a preacher who used to travel from town to town delivering fire and brimstone sermons to stir the hearts of his listeners to repentance. Unfortunately, this preacher himself left much to be desired in his own ways, swerving from the path of Torah whenever it suited his purposes.
The preacher became very well-known and his fame brought him invitations to address congregations near and far. Once he was invited to speak in Brisk. His private indiscretions, however, came to the attention of Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik, who was the rabbi in Brisk, and Rav Chaim forbade the man to speak.
When the preacher realized what had happened, he came to the rabbi to plead his cause. "Come just once and listen to my sermons. You will see that I say nothing objectionable. In fact, every word I utter is a hundred percent kosher. I quote the original sources and the stories I use to illustrate my points are well chosen and especially suited to my listeners. You couldn't have the slightest problem with my sermons!"
Rabbi Soloveichik replied, "In spite of all your protestations that your words are proper and your sources kosher, you will not succeed in making me change my mind. The Jews of Brisk are upright people, good and holy Jews who must be guarded against any improper influences that harm them. Even the most kosher meat, which has been slaughtered by an expert, soaked and salted with great care, becomes non-kosher if it is cooked in a pot which is not kosher."
The preacher understood the Rav's implications and was not seen again in Brisk.
Hiding generally implies that we do not know where the other person is. However if we know that the person is on the other side of the obstacle, and it is merely that we do not see him, he is not truly hidden. This knowledge gives us a better grasp of the exile in which the Jews find themselves. Having been forewarned, we can better deal with the darkness because we know that G-d can be found even as He hides from us. G-d is encouraging us: Even though I am not visible I am standing close by.
(The Baal Shem Tov)