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There are many cliches that describe the power of what we see: "Seeing is believing." (Or the contrary, "don't believe everything you see," indicating by the negative how powerful an influence sight has on belief.) "A picture is worth a thousand words." "What you see is what you get." "I saw it with my own eyes." Etc.
Jewish Sages attest to the power of the eye to lead astray: "the eye sees, the heart desires, the person sins." One can harm by just a glance, such is the power of the "evil eye" - one can attract the attention, the gaze, of evil. Or turn such a gaze on another.
Of course, there is also the "good eye," generating an aura of benevolence by one's look. How we see things defines our attitude and creates an atmosphere: "Look on others with a "good eye."
We are hard-wired for sight. We can debate which sense, sight or hearing, is currently dominant in human beings, but we clearly operate in a visual world. One reason infants sleep so much is they need to form neurons to process information. They need to sort things out in the brain, as they work through the sensory overload they receive from their five senses. And a major part of that work is making sense of what they see. (Consider how much time an infant spends staring at his or her hand, moving it back and forth, perfecting the eye-hand coordination.)
All this raises a question: Why do we recall some images more than others? Why do some images - sights - come to mind constantly and others not at all?
We "see in our mind's eye" not just those we see more physically. We see trees constantly, for instance, but that rarely is an image that comes to mind, unbidden or otherwise.
Things out of context, things associated with trauma, things associated with triumph - the brain-sight recalls these strongly. These may be things that attract or things that repel.
I see two lessons from all this: One, our vision is limited to a very narrow part of the light spectrum. For all we see, even in such detail, there is so much more that we don't see. This should give us pause. If we can see so little, should we not strive to see as much value as we can? We should ask ourselves, is there spiri-tual significance in what I'm looking at? Does what I'm seeing inspire me to acts of goodness and kindness, does it enhance my understanding or appreciation of G-dliness?
We cannot always answer yes, but we should at least be truthful about the answer.
The second lesson emphasizes the importance of the commandment, Do Not Worship Idols - the first of the seven universal commands that apply to all humanity. Idolatry begins not with belief, but with sight. It is not just seeing things that should not be seen. Most of us turn away from, don't look at, filth. Unless mesmerized, we don't gaze upon the corrupt. Idolatry involves "misunderstanding what we see" - and that misunderstanding is often a conscious self-deception.
There is G-dliness within creation, a perceptible G-dliness. That should be the indelible image in our eyes, the image we see in our eyes.
To read more visit davidybkaufmann.blogspot.com
This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, is of general significance to us because it begins the description of the activities of Abraham, the first Jew. It begins with G-d's command to leave his native land, describes his journey through the Land of Israel, the promises G-d made to him, and culminates with Abraham's circumcision.
These events are important to all of Abraham's descendants not only because of their historical nature, but because we are to learn from them and apply their lessons to our own lives as well.
Abraham's service of G-d represents the period in time described by our Sages as "the two thousand years of the Torah," that is, the process by which Abraham prepared the world for the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But what significance does this hold for us today, more than three thousand years after the Torah was given?
Every day a Jew recites a blessing praising G-d as "the Giver of the Torah," using the present tense to imply that every day the Torah is given to us anew. We therefore emulate our Patriarch Abraham's deeds, which helped prepare the world in general for the giving of the Torah, in order to spiritually ready ourselves as well. Abraham's service is therefore always relevant, no matter the era in which a Jew may live.
Furthermore, Abraham's service to G-d is also relevant to the true purpose of the giving of the Torah, which is the application of the Torah and its mitzvot in the physical world, ultimately in the Land of Israel, although in an extended sense we are obligated to elevate every place in which we live into the "Land of Israel." Lech Lecha relates G-d's promise of the Holy Land to the Jewish people and describes Abraham's travels through the land, through which he acquired it forever for his descendants.
There is particular relevance to G-d's promise in the present age, the era immediately preceding Moshiach's coming. G-d promised Abraham the lands of ten nations, including not only the lands of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, but also the lands of the Keini, the Kenizi, and the Kadmoni. Yet we see that historically, even when the entire Jewish people lived in the Land of Israel, that territory was limited to the land of the Canaanites. The complete fulfillment of G-d's promise will only occur after Moshiach's coming, during the Era of Redemption, when the relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel will reach a full state of completion. At that time, not only will all Jews of that generation - including the Ten Lost Tribes - dwell in the Land of Israel, but also all the Jews of previous generations who will arise in the Resurrection.
Thus, in our present generation, we are still involved in the process of preparing to take possession of the Land of Israel, to expand the land so that it includes the territory of the three nations which was promised to us. The Torah portion of Lech Lecha begins the preparations for the giving of the Torah, and therefore for the Era of Redemption, which will be characterized by the complete state of Torah observance which will prevail, when the ultimate expression of G-d's holy Torah will be revealed.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Lech Lecha 5752 this past year.
Eighteen Years, or More
by Rabbi Mordechai Berkowitz:
A few months ago, during a visit to the countryside, I led the Sabbath prayers at a local community synagogue. Before services, the gabbai (attendant) approached me and asked me to deliver a sermon. I agreed.
While giving over the weekly Torah portion and its relevant lessons, I spoke about the Rebbe and his work in Jewish outreach.
Afterwards, an elderly congregant approached me. "When you spoke about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, you aroused some very special memories within me," he said, with great emotion. "If you are free for a few minutes, I'd like to tell you a story about the Rebbe that I personally experienced."
I soon found myself sitting down next to this gentleman, listening most attentively to the following story:
About 30 years ago, I was living in Boston, actively involved with the local Jewish community and Young Israel. I sent my children to the Jewish day school and, when they reached college age, to Boston University. Since in those days many observant Jews studied there, the campus provided a kosher kitchen. Naturally, I not only paid the high cost of tuition, but also the special cost for the kosher meal program.
Several months into the school year I received a surprising phone call from my son, who decided to be honest: since he didn't want me to waste my money for nothing, he asked that I stop paying for the kosher meals.
"For several weeks now," he said, "I haven't been stringent; I eat my meals in the university's regular dining hall, together with my friends."
I was shocked. I never imagined how powerful the winds of heresy were blowing at the university. I realized that I had made a serious mistake by sending my son to a place of spiritual danger.
But it was too late. My son had shaken off all Torah observance, and I was beside myself. From a communally active individual and a businessman, I became a broken vessel.
One day, I met one of my acquaintances. Noticing on my face that something was wrong, he asked if he could help. I tried to dissuade him, but as a truly good friend, he insisted.
Eventually, in great anguish, I shared with him the news about my son, about my attempts to persuade him to return to the right path, only to find that it was no longer possible.
My friend brightened. "I know someone who can help you. You know I'm not at all a Lubavitcher, but I'm telling you right now that the Rebbe can help you."
I refused to believe that after all my efforts to bring my son back to his heritage, the Lubavitcher Rebbe from New York, who had neither seen nor known my son, could succeed where I had failed. But hearing from my friend a number of miracle stories, I concluded that it was worth a try. Even if it didn't help, it certainly couldn't hurt. I called the Rebbe's secretary, made an appointment, and traveled to New York.
I arrived at 770, Lubavitch headquarters, late in the evening. The people in line ahead of me were standing quietly and chanting Psalms. The tranquil atmosphere calmed ever so slightly the storm my soul was enduring.
My turn came. I entered the Rebbe's room with much excitement, and after introducing myself, I proceeded to give all the sad details.
The Rebbe listened. After I finished, he said, "You must be careful not to sever your connection with your son. Maintain good relations with him, and in the meantime, accept him as he is. However, in the end, he will come back."
Then, the Rebbe added the following: "This could take some time - 18, 20, 22 years. But he eventually will come back."
Although I wasn't a Lubavitcher Chasid, the Rebbe's unique look and tone filled me with serenity, and I left the room certain that my son would return to his family and the Torah.
Over the following years, we always kept the channel of communication open, despite the fact that it was a little one-sided, since my son didn't want to come home. This was possibly because he didn't want to upset us too much.
Then, in the eighteenth year, just before Rosh Hashana, he called and asked if he could come to us. We told him that his room was waiting, and that he should just come.
I excitedly remembered the Rebbe's words. My son came for Rosh Hashana, went with me to shul, and ate the holiday meals with us. The atmosphere was wonderful. Apparently, however, the time had not yet come for him to return completely, and after Rosh Hashana he left in peace and went back to his business affairs.
Two years passed. Twenty years since the meeting with the Rebbe, I again received a phone call from my son. It was right before Passover and my son asked to come and spend the holiday with us. He actively participated in the Seder, and we spent the entire week together. Faithful to the Rebbe's instructions, I refrained from pressuring him regarding Jewish observance. For his part, my son also didn't raise the subject.
From our conversations, I understood that my son was rapidly advancing in his career.
Another two years passed, and the Rebbe's words began to ring even more powerfully. I had waited 22 years for this moment.
One day, my son called me. He asked to see us again, but this time he wanted my wife and me to come to his house. Before I could think about how to keep kosher there, he updated me.
Recently he had become acquainted with the Rebbe's emissary in Washington, through whom he had begun to return to his roots. Remembering his training for his Bar Mitzva, he became the official Torah reader for the local Chabad House.
"A short while ago," my son concluded, "I made my kitchen kosher, and now you can come to me without any worries."
Strength and Dignity
The book is a collection of talks and letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the various roles of Jewish women, as illuminated by the Torah, arranged according to the weekly Torah portions. Strength and Dignity is a valuable resource for Jewish women of all ages - from young women preparing to establish a Jewish home, to teachers for use in lesson planning, to parents raising children, to all women seeking greater insight into their roles. Translated and adapted by Dr. Naomi Zirkind
30 Tishrei, 5720 (1959)
I received your letter of the 17th of Tishrei in which you write about your background and activities. I was especially gratified to read about your activities to strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your environment, in the field of kashrus [the kosher dietary laws], etc.
I was especially pleased to read you realize that there is a great deal more to do. For the realization that there is more to be done ought to bring forth additional forces to meet the challenge. All the more so, since every one of us is commanded to go from strength to strength in all matters of holiness, which should be on the ascendancy.
In this connection it is well to remember the saying of my father-in-law, of saintly memory, that at this time every Jew should consider himself in the position of a mountain climber climbing a steep mountain.
In this situation he must continue to climb or slide back, for he cannot remain stationary... It is also a well-known law of physics that the rate of a falling object accelerates. The lesson is obvious.
I read with interest about the books you read and study. I was surprised to note the absence of the Tanya and other works on Chassidus, which you no doubt could study in the original, though part of this literature is available in English.
The study of Chassidus would not only be greatly inspiring to yourself, but would have a great influence on your work and inspiration on behalf of others.
Young people not burdened by family responsibilities, and full of youthful energy, should make the fullest use of their opportunities.
I trust that you have friends among Anash [members of the Chassidic community] with whom you can discuss a method of learning Chassidus and what sources you should study, though I imagine you should have a fairly good idea. But nevertheless, many heads are better than one.
As for your question with regard to my attitude towards the Holy Land etc., I trust you saw my reply to the question "What is a Jew?" which has been published both in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] and here in America. Your particular question with regard to emigration and settling in Eretz Yisroel does not indicate whether it refers to yourself or is in a general way. But my answer would depend on the circumstances of each individual, for it is not possible to give blanket advice on such an important question.
I should like, however, to emphasize one general point. No matter how much is expected of a Jew in regard to Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], wherever he may be, a great deal is expected of him if he is in Eretz Yisroel, of which the Torah says "It is the land on which the eyes of G-d are upon, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." So much so, that it is regarded as a Holy Land even among non-Jews. Our Sages refer to it as "The Palace of the King." A person wishing to enter the Royal Palace must be prepared to answer such questions as on what business he is there, and he must be properly prepared in every way. It is demonstrated by his conduct and actions that he realizes he is in a Royal Palace. It is unnecessary to elaborate.
May G-d grant that you will succeed in what is your true and inner purpose in life, namely to spread Yiddishkeit, and in an ever-growing way, and may you have good news to report always,
AMOS means "to be burdened, troubled." Amos (Amos 1:1) was one of the twelve Minor Prophets who lived during the eighth century b.c.e. Concerning Amos, the Talmud says: "Six hundred and thirteen mitzvot (commandments) were told to Moses on Sinai. Amos came and summarized them into one, 'Seek Me and you shall live.'"
AHUVA means "beloved."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One Saturday night, Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, (the fifth Chabad Rebbe), commented on the Torah portion which we read this Shabbat, Lech Lecha:
"In the early years of his leadership, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, declared publicly, 'One must live with the times.' From his brother, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, the older chasidim discovered that the Rebbe meant one must live with the Torah portion of the week. One should not only learn the weekly portion but live it.
"Beraishit is a cheerful portion, even though its ending is not all that pleasant. Noach has the Flood, but the week ends on a happy note with the birth of our father Abraham. The really joyous week is that of Lech Lecha. We live every day of the week with Abraham, the first to dedicate his very life to spreading G-dliness in the world. And Abraham bequeathed his self-sacrifice as an inheritance to all Jews."
Spreading G-dliness and teaching others about the One G-d was what made Abraham so unique. For, others before him had recognized that there was only one G-d. Adam and his descendants acknowledged the Creator, Noah and his generation, too, believed in one G-d. We are taught that Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had studied about G-d in a "yeshiva" established by Shem - one of Noah's sons. So, Abraham's realization that there is One Supreme Being was not novel. His distinctiveness lay in the fact that he taught those around him, the majority of his generation who had fallen into the error of believing in many gods.
As Rabbi Sholom Ber taught, through Abraham's self-sacrifice, we, his children, inherited the strength to spread G-dliness in the world.
And Abram took Sarai his wife... and all the souls they had made in Charan (Gen. 12:5)
As Rashi explains, this refers to the people whom Abraham and Sarah "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence. Abraham converted the men [to the belief in one G-d] and Sarah converted the women." Because this took place before the Torah was given at Sinai, the concept of conversion did not exist as it does today; according to Jewish law, Abraham and Sarah were considered "Children of Noah." Thus Rashi uses the unusual phrase "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence" to establish this fact before using the word "conversion" in a non-literal sense.
For their wealth was great, so that they could not dwell together (Gen. 13:6)
Not poverty but wealth, and the jealousy it engenders, is the cause of most of the dissension and conflict in the world.
Fear not Abram, for I am your shield (Gen. 15:1)
Our forefather Abraham was the epitome of unlimited loving-kindness; in his eyes everyone was good and had merit. Unfortunately, however, looking at the world in such an undiscriminating fashion precludes the entire purpose of creation, i.e., the eradication and nullification of evil. For this reason G-d promised Abraham that He would put a "shield" on his loving-kindness, to make sure it would be applied with the proper discretion.
Your reward will be exceedingly great (Gen. 15:1)
The reward a Jew receives for doing mitzvot is vastly out of proportion to the deed itself: a finite and limited action is rewarded with an eternal and everlasting dividend.
Laying the "foundation stone" for the Tzemach Tzedek's shul [Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe] was cause for great joy and celebration. The Chasidim set up rows of tables and benches and made a farbrengen, or gathering, in honor of the happy event. When the Tzemach Tzedek arrived he turned to his followers with a question: "Which would you prefer? Would you like to hear a Chasidic discourse or would you prefer that I tell you a story?" The Chasidim all chose to hear the story.
The Tzemach Tzedek began:
There was once a man by the name of Reb Yaakov, who was a Chasid of the holy Ruzhiner Rebbe (Rabbi Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, great- grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch).
Reb Yaakov was an innkeeper who leased an inn from a Jewish tax collector, also named Reb Yaakov. This Reb Yaakov was a very honest and G-d fearing man, who, in turn, rented the inn from its true owner, the Polish landowner, who owned all the local properties and rented them out to various individuals. The innkeeper was a very poor man and had not been able to pay his rent for a very long time. After a long period of grace, the tax collector sent notice to Reb Yaakov that he would be evicted is he did not come up with the money. Reb Yaakov went to his rebbe, the holy Ruzhiner, for advice.
The Ruzhiner begged the tax collector to have pity on the poor innkeeper and his hungry children, and to free him from his formidable debt. Being a straight and honest individual, the tax collector agreed. He not only waived the money he owed , but even lowered the future rent, stipulating only that he pay on time in the future, as he too had bills to pay.
Unfortunately things continued to go badly and the innkeeper received another eviction notice. Again the innkeeper ran to the Ruzhiner for help and the Ruzhiner pleaded with the tax collector. Once more the rent was forgiven, but to no avail. The tax collector found himself again in the same position, paying the poritz the monthly rent from his own pocket. He had stretched as far as he could go and he decided that he had no choice but to actually evict his impoverished tenant.
The familiar scene played itself out a third time, as the innkeeper traveled to Ruzhin and the Ruzhiner called for Reb Yaakov the tax collector. This time, however, the Ruzhiner was unable to get him to budge.
"I've done all that is humanly possible," he answered the Ruzhiner's pleas. "I forgave him his debts not once, but twice. More than this I'm not willing to concede. It's my money that's involved here, not the Rebbe's!" he stormed.
The hapless tenant and his family were evicted.
It was not until many years later, when Reb Yaakov the tax collector passed away and his soul ascended on high to the World of Truth, that his moment of reckoning came. The prosecuting angels insisted that Reb Yaakov be found guilty for evicting a poor Jewish man and his family from their home and preventing him from earning a living, however meager.
"What did I do that was so terrible!" answered Reb Yaakov in his own defense. "How many times did I waive all his debts and allow him to take as long as he wanted to pay the rent? Not only that, but I lowered the amount several times as well. What else could I have possibly done? Was I supposed to throw away all my own money for his sake?" he complained.
"Furthermore," he testified, "What do you know about money? You angels have no conception of money and cannot understand its value to those of us down below. You therefore cannot properly judge my case. I demand to be judged by a court of people who once lived on earth and are familiar with such matters," he said.
A heavenly court was quickly convened, consisting of the BaCh (Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, great Polish scholar; 1561-1640) and the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Karo, codifier of the Shulchan Aruch; 1488-1575). After hearing both sides of the case, they too found him culpable.
"The only reason I was found guilty is because these two Tzadikim have been absent from the physical world for such a long time that they forgot what money is," Reb Yaakov insisted in his own defense. "I demand that my case be judged by people who at this moment inhabit the physical realm!"
The Tzemach Tzedek paused at this point in the story. "What do you think?" he asked the group of Chasidim who were listening attentively.
No one dared open his mouth. The Rebbe's question was met with a protracted silence.
"I believe that Reb Yaakov is correct," continued the Tzemach Tzedek. "What do you think?"
The Rebbe then pronounced: "Gerecht, gerecht, gerecht (not guilty, not guilty, not guilty)."
Those present then realized that the Tzemach Tzedek had just vindicated Reb Yaakov the tax collector up in heaven and decided the case in his favor.
G-d promised Abraham the lands of the ten nations. This included not only the land of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews, but also the lands of Keini, Kenizi, and Kadmoni. G-d promised, and thus gave, the Jews all these ten lands at the same time. Nevertheless, in the present era, we were granted only the lands of seven nations and the fulfillment of this promise in its entirety will be in the Messianic Era... In that Era, by contrast, not only all Jews of that generation but also all Jews of all previous generations who will arise in the Resurrection, will live there.
(The Rebbe, 11 Marcheshvan, 5752-1991)