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Wherever we turn, it seems the rates are going up. It's not just inflation. It's not prices keeping up with costs and wages. Things are just getting more expensive.
Utility companies ask for an increase in the rates. Mass transit - buses, trains - fares increase. Airline tickets cost more. And on most airlines, first they introduced a rate for baggage, then raised it.
It's one thing when the price of goods and services goes up. We don't have to buy the most expensive car or the fanciest watermelon. And when the market, when properly regulated, allows for the ups-and-downs of prices.
The difference between a price and a rate is choice: goods and services have prices, which we can choose to pay or not. Requirements and necessities have rates, which may be regulated or controlled within certain parameters, but over which we have neither control nor choice. You can't negotiate the rate the sewerage & water board charges. Or the electric company. Now you can move between phone carriers, but the rate plan remains the rate plan.
And the rates almost never, ever go down.
Our Sages teach us that this world is a world of falsehood. So on a spiritual level, the rate remains the same, or even lessens, while the price continues to rise. To explain:
What are the spiritual necessities? Torah study and the observance of the mitzvot (commandments). These are what sustain the world, what transform the world, what turn the world into a place of goodness and kindness, what make the world a dwelling for G-dliness.
Yet the "rate" of a mitzva remains the same, regardless of who performs it (provided the person is commanded to perform it - certain mitzvot are place specific [in Israel only] or person-specified [only a Kohen], etc.), when or where it's performed. For example, when Moses put on tefilin and a Bar Mitzva boy today puts on tefilin for the first time in his life, it has the same spiritual value.
In other words, G-d never raises the rates on a mitzva. In a spiritual sense, the cost to usage ratio remains constant.
What fluctuates in value - what varies in spiritual price - is our emotional investment and intellectual engagement with the mitzva or Torah learning. Our ability to understand a mitzva, the fervor and devotion - even self-sacrifice - with which we perform it - that changes. Its "price" varies not only from individual to individual - Moses understands the significance of tefilin at a much deeper level than I ever could - but also within the individual. At different times and at different places, the "price" of a mitzva varies.
Nevertheless, we're not in it - in the Torah and mitzva business - just for ourselves, our feelings, our intellectual growth, our spiritual benefit. We're in the Torah and mitzva business to transform the world and reveal G-dliness. So even if the price changes, if sometimes we have to pay more, put in more effort for less of a personal payback, we have to know one thing:
The value never varies.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, opens with the commandment of bikurim - first fruits. "You shall put it in a basket...and the priest will take the basket out of your hand."
Closer study of the Torah's laws of bikurim reveals that the presentation of the basket (usually made out of wicker) to the kohen/priest was an integral part of the mitzva (commandment) itself.
Interestingly, while the fruits that were brought were only the choicest (and only selected from the seven varieties with which the land of Israel is praised), the basket that was used for them was made of a common material.
This seeming contradiction in the mitzva of bikurim contains an allusion to the descent of the soul from the higher spheres and its incarnation in a physical body down below.
The fruits of the bikurim are symbolic of the soul; the basket is the corporeal body. Handing the basket to the priest represents the purpose for which the soul made this drastic descent.
In general, the first fruits are symbolic of the Jewish people; more specifically, of the G-dly soul as it exists Above, completely transcendent of the physical world.
G-d's plan, however, is for this rarefied soul to become enclothed in a body, a coarse and lowly "vessel" which contains it, as it were.
This vessel makes it difficult for the soul to express its connection with G-d, even to the point of obscuring its true mission in the world. Again, just as in the mitzva of bikurim, the holy and superior "fruit" is contained and even constrained within the confines of a simple and unpretentious "basket."
Chasidut provides the reason for this, explaining that the descent of the soul into a physical body is a "descent for the purpose of ascent": It is precisely through its sojourn on the physical plane, having to confront the difficulties of this world and overcome them, that the essence of the soul is revealed and a higher level of spirituality attained - much higher than could ever be reached without experiencing this descent in the first place.
In principle, "fruits" alone are not enough; the objective of the soul's descent is "fruits within a basket."
The soul's ascent is accomplished through the performance of practical mitzvot, which can only be done with the help of the "vessel" - the physical body. For in truth, the soul was already filled with love and awe of G-d before it came into the material world; the only change it experiences upon finding itself in a body is that it can now do physical mitzvot, something that was previously impossible. Thus the soul is rendered capable of elevating the physical world and turning it into holiness - the very intent of all of creation.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Volume 29
Findings in Pune
by Yisrael Lowenstein
I went to India - and found myself spiritually.
No, no, it's not what you might be thinking. I'm still the same old me. But I did get awestruck and inspired. Let me explain...
My company sent me to work with a subcontractor in Pune, India (a city that is about a four-hour drive from Mumbai).
While there, I was quite amazed in two main ways: It was so interesting to see such a different culture with such different cultural norms: I had culture shock on a few occasions. I met some amazing people who reminded me what it means to love your fellow Jew.
First, for the culture shock. India is so different from my life in almost every way: Crazy traffic and driving, strange animals roaming around, idol worship on every corner, different smells coming from stores, interesting costumes, different social standards. It was just so interesting (and occasionally shocking) to see things that are so different.
On the spiritual side, I was inspired by the local Chabad rabbi and his wife, Rabbi Betzalel and Rachel Kupchik.
They moved to Pune from Tzfat, Israel, with seven children about 10 years ago. They had heard that Jews come to Pune to visit a certain ashram and they wanted to be there for them.
Their house is always open to people who are stopping through. They give them food, friendship, advice, and love, purely for the sake of helping their fellow Jews. I was truly inspired to have met them.
In the week that I was in Pune, here are some of the things I saw them do:
The rebbetzin insisted on making me home- made meals and sandwiches to take to the office every day. She also made sure there was hot, home-made, kosher food when I got back (late) at night. Actually, all the food is home made since there is nowhere to get kosher processed food. The Kupchik boys go to a farm to milk a cow so that they can have kosher milk. They use lots of vegetables, fish, and rice, and they make their own breads and cookies. It is all quite amazing.
Rabbi Kupchik heard that there was going to be an exposition with companies from around the world. He heard that a few Israeli companies would be there. So he went down to the show in order to finds the few Jews there to bring them some kosher food and give them a chance to put on tefilin.
One of the Israeli travelers had been putting on tefilin while he was there. When it was time for him to leave, the Kupchiks urged him to take the tefilin with him and told him he could return them to someone in Israel.
It was not uncommon for hikers to arrive late at night or early in the morning and come right into the house and crash on a sofa. In the morning the rebbetzin would come down and talk with them while making them breakfast.
On Shabbat, the Kupchik boys visit an Israeli family that is a 30 minute walk each way. They bring some of the spirit of Shabbat to the young children in the family.
It was amazing and inspiring to see how the Kupchik family ran after every opportunity to help a fellow Jew or to give another Jew the chance to do a mitzva. It was worth going to India just to see that.
Some other highlights from my week in Pune:
At the Chabad House, I met a newly married religious couple who are backpacking around the world for their first year of marriage. We hit it off great - the husband even unicycles and juggles (and has a goal to juggle on top of the seven tallest mountains in the world - he already has done a few of them!). We had a great time together and I still keep in touch with them to see how their trip is going.
On the rebbetzin's recommendation, I went to the Juna Bazaar with another Israeli hiker that was there. It is a flee market where they close up a busy road twice a week and everyone brings their things to sell. I wanted to buy saris and kids costumes for purim. A beautiful, slightly worn sari there costs about 40-60 Rupee - about 50 cents. I got a few saris, kids costumes, and a drum and was very excited that I had gone.
Saturday night, a group of visitors who had spent Shabbat at the Chabad House went to see the "Red Temple" (the Lal Deval) also known as the Ohel David Synagogue. It turns out Pune has TWO synagogues - who knew? This synagogue is the largest synagogue in Asia. It looks like an old English church. (I found out later that the architect was British.) The synagogue was built by a wealthy Iraqi Jewish philanthropist named David Sassoon who helped develop the area (there is a Samsoon Road., Samsoon Hospital, etc.). It was beautiful inside. And it was so fascinating to meet the Indian Jewish community and to see their prayer books written in transliterated Hindi.
With permission from lushipictures.blogspot.com
Rabbi Mendel and Chava Dubov have moved to Sparta, New Jersey, where they will direct the Chabad Jewish Center of Sussex County, focusing on the synagogue, Hebrew school and Adult Education Institute. Rabbi Chalom and Esti Loeub have arrived in Tallahassee, Florida where they will work with Jewish students at Florida State University and organize community programs. Rabbi Sholom Ber and Devorah Butman are opening a new Chabad House on Midrachov Nachlat Binyamin in downtown Tel Aviv, Israel. This brings the total number of Chabad Houses in Tel Aviv to 32. Four families have moved to Moscow, Russia, to teach at the boys' yeshiva Cheder Menachem, girls' school Ohr Menachem and kindergartens. The familiies are the Navons, Markowitzs, Eisenbergs and Dicksteins.
13th of Elul, 5731 
To the Administration of Chabad House
I was gratified to be informed about the forthcoming dedication of a Sefer Torah [Torah Scroll] in the Chabad House, which will take place on the auspicious day of the 18th of Elul, the birthday of the founder of general Chassidus, the Baal Shem Tov, and the birthday also of the founder of Chabad Chassidus, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch.
Needless to say, the observance of this double birthday has the central purpose that their way of life, work and teachings should continue to illuminate the daily life of each and every one of us. Both the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, who expanded the Chassidic teachings in a systematic way, brought the Chassidic experience to Jews of all backgrounds, made the embodiment of the three loves, love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of Israel, the cornerstone of their system, with emphasis on the fact that the said three loves are completely interlocked and integrated.
This system and way of life quickly began to spread and gain many followers, in an ever-growing measure in quantity and quality, from generation to generation to the present day, which has clearly demonstrated how viable and vital it has been for the Jewish people, for the individual as well as for Klal Yisroel [the entire Jewish people].
I have used the expression "illuminated" advisedly, since this does not necessarily mean the creation of new things, but to illuminate existing things which have not been fully appreciated, or which have been altogether overlooked.
Thus, the primary contribution of Chassidus is that it illuminates the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and their inner aspects, Pnimius HaTorah, and shows each and every one of us the way to bring them within our personal daily experience.
The above is particularly important in relation to the young generation, who are still at the threshold of independent life and have untapped resources of energy and dedication to face any challenge, to accept the truth and nothing but the whole truth, rejecting all compromise - in their search for the genuine article.
As for the teacher and mentor, while he must do his best to help those whom he teaches and guides to make the utmost progress, he also reckons with the capacity of the students. However, since it is the task of each and every Jew to follow the Torah way of life, with dedication and inspiration, as illuminated by the teachings of Chassidus - it is clear that this task, which has been given to every Jew as a duty and privilege by G-d, the Creator and Master of the world, is within the capacity of each and everyone, since G-d does not expect the impossible.
May G-d grant that the dedication of the Sefer Torah in the Chabad House should symbolize the dedication of the Sefer Torah in each and every Jewish home in the community, and strengthen adherence of the Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life, not only on special occasions or special days, but in accordance with the well-known commandment in the Shema - "And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak them when you sit in the house or when you walk in the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up."
I send my prayerful wishes to each and every one who is associated with the work of the Chabad House, for Hatzlocho [success] in all above, and in a growing measure and, with the approach of the New Year, to be blessed with a Kesivo vachasimo Tova [to be inscribed and sealed for good], for a good and pleasant year materially and spiritually.
NACHSHON means "diviner." Nachshon was Aaron's brother-in-law (Exodus 6:23) and prince of the tribe of Judah. He was first to enter the waters of the Red Sea when the Egyptians pursued from behind. When it was up to his neck, he cried out to G-d to save the Jewish people and the waters split.
NAAMA means pleasant or beautiful. Naama was the wife of Noah. (Genesis 4:22) According to the Zohar, she was an exceedingly skillful metal worker. Another Naama was one of King Solomon's wives, the mother of King Rehoboam. (I Kings 14:21)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Shabbat is Chai Elul, the 18th of Elul. Chai Elul was the date of birth of two great luminaries - the Baal Shem Tov, founder of general Chasidut and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidut.
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, described Chai Elul by saying that it introduces chayot - life energy - into the service of the month of Elul.
The service of Elul includes Torah study, prayer and mitzvot (commandments) as well as teshuva (repentance) and redemption.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that at each moment, creation is renewed.
When G-d created the world from total nothingness, the first moment of existence that He created included within it every moment that would follow.
Similarly, at every moment, as G-d totally recreates the world anew, every moment includes all previous and all subsequent moments, just as the first moment of creation included all time.
This concept helps us understand teshuva - return and repentance. It is explained that in one moment of true repentance a person can compensate for inadequacies in his behavior over many years.
Indeed, with one turn of sincere teshuva, one can compensate for all the past transgression, even those committed in previous incarnations.
How is that possible?
Because each moment contains within it the totality of time and can thus alter the nature of the events that occurred previously.
This concept, although true at all times, receives greater emphasis during the month of Elul. And Chai Elul contributes the dimension of chayot - life energy - to all of this.
On this basis, we can understand the uniqueness of Chai Elul.
And it shall be, when you come into the land...and you shall take of all the fruit of the earth...and put it in a basket... and you shall go to the priest (Deut. 26:1-3)
Fourteen years elapsed after the Jewish people entered the land of Israel until they were able to bring their first fruits to Jerusalem. Seven years had been spent conquering the entire land from its inhabitants; seven more years had been spent dividing the land among the 12 tribes. Our generation, which will very soon enter the promised land with the coming of Moshiach, will not need to wait to bring our first fruits to the Holy Temple. Not only will there be no need to conquer and distribute the land, but the fruits themselves will grow so rapidly that their harvesting will take place simultaneously with their planting.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Ve'etchanan, 5751)
Blessed you shall be in the city (Deut. 28:3)
According to the Midrash, "the city" means "in the merit of the mitzvot you do among society," implying the obligation to ensure that one's surroundings are also imbued with Torah and mitzvot.
(Divrei Shaarei Chaim)
Because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and gladness of heart...therefore will you serve your enemies (Deut. 28:47-48)
When a person serves someone he feels close to and loves, his tasks are performed with joy and alacrity. A lack of joy in the service of G-d thus implies that the person serves a distant Master from Whom he is estranged, G-d forbid.
(Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin)
The year before the birth of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, the Baal Shem Tov knew that a new soul was soon to descend to this world. But who would be privileged to host it he did not know, so he searched for it in the heavenly palaces.
What a soul is in its pristine state Above - this the Baal Shem Tov knew. How a soul descends into this world and is garbed in materiality - this he also knew. How fares a new soul - this he dearly would love to know.
He knew that this new soul was due to descend to this world during that year; he did not know where, or in whom.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman's father, the saintly Reb Baruch, was one of the Baal Shem Tov's circle of hidden tzadikim. But no one knew of Reb Baruch's righteousness - no one, that is, apart from his wife Rebbetzin Rivka.
When a year had passed since their marriage and they had not been blessed with a child, Reb Baruch and his wife set out during the month of Elul to visit the Baal Shem Tov in order to ask for his blessing. The Baal Shem Tov blessed them and promised them that in the forthcoming year, 5505 (1745), they would be granted a healthy son.
The fact that this child was connected to the new soul that was destined to descend that year was hidden even from the Baal Shem Tov.
On Rosh Hashana of that year, the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov observed a marked difference from his accustomed mode of divine service. His abounding joy could be perceived in his manner of prayer, in the especially cordial tone with which he blessed them, in the Torah teachings at the meal thereafter, in the next day's sounding of the shofar, and in the additional prayer service.
The conclusion of Yom Kippur that year found the Baal Shem Tov in a distinctive state of holy elation, which remained with him until after Simchat Torah. His disciples understood that something wonderful must have transpired that holiday month, something that had brought him such joy that he had departed from his accustomed mode of divine service during the Days of Awe, for joy was now its dominant theme. But eager as they were to discover the reason for this joy, they were left disappointed.
Before Reb Baruch and his wife left Medzibozh, they called on the Baal Shem Tov to receive his farewell blessings. Rebbetzin Rivka, bestirred by spiritual emotion, told the tzadik that when the Almighty fulfilled his blessing and granted her a healthy son, she would dedicate him to the study of Torah and to divine service in the spirit of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.
Seeing their state of spiritual arousal, the Baal Shem Tov gave them his blessing, and they left town with glad hearts.
On Wednesday morning, on the eighteenth of Elul, the Baal Shem Tov returned from his immersion in the mikva (ritual bath) in extraordinarily buoyant spirits. His disciples were mystified, but none of them ventured to breathe a question. Moreover, the tzadik personally led the prayers to the jovial rhythms of the festival melodies. And when he surprised them by omitting the penitential prayers, they realized that this must be a uniquely festive day.
He then invited them to share his visible joy at a festive meal, where he said: "On Wednesday, 'the day on which the luminaries were suspended in the heavens,' on the Wednesday of the week whose Haftorah opens with the words, 'Arise and shine ,' on this day a new soul has come down, which will light up the world through the revealed levels of the Torah and through Chasidut. It will endure self-sacrifice for the sake of the spiritual path of Chasidut and will succeed in its mission until the coming of Moshiach."
When the Baal Shem Tov received Reb Baruch on Yom Kippur that year, he warned him that he should tell no one that he had had a son, nor should he tell anyone of the child's name. Later, when Reb Baruch was about to leave for home, the Baal Shem Tov gave him detailed instructions as to how the child should be attended to and how he should be taken out to the fields. He warned him solemnly, moreover, that the child should be kept out of public view, and in particular, out of the view of the local gossips.
And three times a day, the Baal Shem Tov remembered the newborn child in his prayers.
On the child's third birthday, Rebbetzin Rivka and her sister-in-law arrived in Medzibozh for the child's third birthday, when it is customary to give the first haircut. As soon as the Baal Shem Tov had given the child his first training in leaving his peyot (side-curls) uncut and had given him his blessing, he urged them to leave immediately and not to discuss between themselves where they had been. Finally, he wished them a good year and a safe journey home.
The little boy kept on asking who was this man who had cut his hair and left him with peyot, and who had blessed him.
"That was a grandfather," replied his mother. Thus, Rabbi Shneur Zalman referred to the Baal Shem Tov in the future, as his spiritual grandfather.
Excerpted from Likutei Dibburim by the Previous Rebbe
Reveal Yourself, my beloved, and spread over me the shelter of Your peace. Let the earth be illuminated by Your glory; we will rejoice and exult in You. Hasten, Beloved, for the time has come; and be gracious unto us as in days of yore.
(From Yedid Nefesh, said on the eve of Shabbat)