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Fear, of course, is an instinct - it's half the "fight or flight" response hard-wired into our nervous system. But these two responses aren't equal. One is always stronger than the other, both in an individual, and in a given situation. Thus, the individual whose first response might be flight - be afraid and run away - might, in a particular case - react differently. The first reaction might be to fight - to attack and destroy the threat. That reaction might come from an instantaneous assessment that one is stronger than the threat, or it may come from the very nature of the threat. This threat I attack, that threat I flee.
The first thing we flee, the thing we are hard-wired to fear, is pain. Physical pain. But we also fear emotional pain. And intellectual pain.
There's a difference between fear and pain: Fear is an emotion. An emotion of the future. It's based on experience, of course. Infants and fools are fearless, the saying goes, because they don't know better. Fear teaches us to "know better."
It also deceives us. Fear creates false pain - magnifying what is, or what might be, or even what must be. How often after a painful experience - that can include giving a speech or the like - do we say, "that wasn't as bad as I thought"? Or, "that wasn't as painful as I expected"?
Pain of any kind is an experience of the moment. Pain exists in the present tense, and only in the present tense - unless we recall it to memory and re-experience it. Or unless we make it seem real out if its time and out of its proportion, but giving it jurisdiction over the future. But the pain of then doesn't hurt now. It's the pain of now that hurts now. We just turn the pain of then into the pain of now through fear.
Of course, there are things we should be afraid of. Experience is in truth a good teacher. But fear becomes stronger through self-deception - or allowing others to play on our fears.
In the book of Deuteronomy, among the curses for not following G-d's Will and doing His commandments, is one that states the people will flee in fear though no one pursues. A leaf will wave in the wind and the people will think an army chases them.
A day of terror should not become a lifetime of fear. A moment of evil should not define the future.
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
There is, however, another kind of fear, although fear is the wrong word. Awe is a better word, though, they are sometimes used interchangeably when talking of the Divine. "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." But the meaning here is reverence, being overwhelmed, humbled. That's a different kind of fear - the kind we shouldn't fear, but embrace.
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Our Sages explain the verse in this week's Torah portion, Vayeira, "Abraham was old and well advanced in age," to mean that Abraham utilized every day of his life in the service of G-d. Not one day of his life span on earth was deficient.
We are also told, however, that Abraham did not recognize the Creator until the age of three. (Other statements in the Midrash cite different ages, 40 and 48 respectively, at which Abraham recognized the One true G-d.) How then can our Sages have said that all of Abraham's days were spent in Divine service, when there was obviously some length of time (depending on the interpretation) before he came to worship G-d properly?
In truth, the same question can be asked of each and every individual Jew. The obligation to observe the Torah's commandments begins only at the age of 13, or 12 for girls. Does this mean that before the age of Bar of Bat Mitzva, when a child is first learning about Torah and mitzvot, that his service of G-d is somehow imperfect?
Not at all. A child's formative years of Jewish education are not only not considered deficient in any way, but are an integral part of the preparation necessary for living a full adult life. When a child is taught how to observe Torah and mitzvot, his childhood is being utilized to its fullest potential. Whenever the Torah commands us to perform a certain action, whatever preparations we need to make ahead of time are also considered part of the mitzva.
One cannot make the argument that the first 12 or 13 years of a Jew's life are spiritually lacking, simply because G-d exempts him from punishment. Rather, it is G-d's will that this period of time be spent learning how to observe Torah and mitzvot most fully in later life.
The same principle can be applied to our ancestor Abraham. True, he only came to recognize G-d at a certain chronological age, but all of the time leading up to this was spent in the pursuit of truth, as Maimonides writes, "His mind began to range...until he perceived the path of truth." Abraham's early years were therefore not flawed, but an important and necessary stage in his Divine service. He may not have perfected his worship of G-d until a certain point, but in terms of utilizing his time and effort to the maximum, he was as perfect as could have been expected of him.
In fact, the entire period of our exile can be considered as preparation for the spiritual perfection we will attain in the Messianic era. But it is precisely now, by "educating" ourselves properly, that we will achieve the very highest levels of perfection with the Redemption.
Adapted from Vol. 35 of Likutei Sichot
"Angels" on the Freeway
by Steve Hyatt
As I sat in the doctor's office full of anxiety, I heard the word no one wants to hear from their orthopedist when he looks at your x-ray: "Whoa!"
And so began my journey into the world of hip replacement. Until that moment hip replacement surgery was for "old" people, injured professional football players, or someone severely injured in a car accident. But it most certainly didn't apply to me, a young 57-year-old!
If you've never had a hip problem, count your blessings. Something as simple as putting on a sock produces waves of excruciating pain. It also impacts your ability to sleep, walk to the mailbox, chase your grandson around a soccer field, sit comfortably for long hours in an airplane and walk to and from shul (synagogue) on Shabbat.
Over the years I've chronicled the myriad people I've met and the adventures I've experienced while walking two or three miles to shul. That walk was always an opportunity to shut down the business side of my brain and marvel at the wonders of nature around me. It was a unique opportunity to recharge my spiritual batteries and for the first time all week to totally, unconditionally relax!
Since arriving at my new home in McLean, Virginia, I had discomfort in my left leg every time I climbed stairs or walked more than a mile. Within months I was constantly in pain. That pain eventually brought me to the doctor whose astonishment at the severity of my condition was the aforementioned "Whoa!" He informed me that I needed a complete hip replacement. I went home and discussed it with my wife. We decided to wait and see if the pain would subside.
The pain in my leg sometimes prevented me from walking the 5.2 miles round-trip to and from shul every Saturday so my attendance became sporadic. As weeks turned into months I realized how much I missed shul, how much I missed my "relax" time, and how much my soul missed my spiritual recharge time.
The day before Rosh Hashana I convinced myself that despite the pain I was going to walk to shul both days. When I woke up the morning of the first day I was in pain but I set out anyway. The first mile is straight up hill and it was horrible. When I crested the hill I had to stop and literally catch my breath from the pain. Within a few moments the pain subsided and I started again.
After a few hundred yards I was faced with another problem, a huge construction project. The bridge I had to cross was under repair and there was no longer a sidewalk. There was a pathway but in the past it had me walking within inches of passing cars and trucks. Faced with having to do that again with a bad leg I almost gave up. But a little voice in my head encouraged me to go on.
As I made way across the bridge on the narrow pathway, my leg actually started to feel better. Before I knew it I had cleared the construction "battle zone." About an hour later I arrived at shul.
My leg tightened up during services. When services were over I hobbled out of the building and started walking. After a few hundred yards I felt better and for the rest of the walk I felt pretty good. When I arrived at the bridge I was once again concerned about having to dodge the traffic. Before I took my first step I noticed what appeared to be four men floating across the bridge. Being Rosh Hashana I immediately thought "Four angels are leading me across the bridge!" Upon closer inspection they weren't angels, but were four construction workers walking across a narrow "sidewalk" that I had never seen before. The workers had placed concrete barriers against the side of the bridge to protect themselves as they worked on various pieces of the structure. However, from the road, the barrier created an optical illusion and the narrow walkway was impossible to see.
I had walked across this bridge at least 10 times and had never seen the protected walkway. I recalled something my dad has said to me a thousand times: "Steve sometimes you look but you do not see." Never had that statement made more sense. I immediately walked over to the first barrier and sure enough there was a pathway. Before you could say "More potato kugel please!" I was skipping along, protected from the ten-wheelers and mini-vans. A few minutes later I was safely ensconced in my home.
As I sat in my favorite chair I couldn't help but wonder at my good fortune. On the Shabbat mornings when my leg was not too painful I had traveled across that bridge dodging the big rigs along the way. This time because my leg slowed me down I came to the bridge at the exact moment four construction "angels" were walking to their job site. Five minutes earlier or later and I'd have missed them and never discovered the hidden walkway. Now I had a safe and quick way across the bridge until the two year project was completed. Coincidence.... I think not!
Many years earlier my mentor Rabbi Chuni Vogel and I were sitting in his sukka when it started to rain. I wanted to go inside. The rabbi picked up a slice of water-logged challa and said, "Shloma Yakov, no one ever said a mitzva has to be easy. For 3311 years your ancestors have been performing the mitzva of 'dwelling' in a sukka. Take your mind off the rain and concentrate on the joy of fulfilling G-d's mitzva and honoring the memory of your ancestors who lived in dwellings like these for 40 years." He waited a moment for his words to sink in and then added, "But, if the rain really bothers you, feel free to go inside." I chose to remain in the sukka and it was one of the best nights of my life.
His words, "No one ever said a mitzva has to be easy" has been my motto for the last 15 years. Every time I am afraid to try something new or do something old, I think of those words. As I walked across the bridge with a painful hip his words once again inspired me.
I get my new hip in December. After that the only thing my doctor will say is, "Whoa, nice drive down the middle of the golf course Steve!"
Chabad Jewish Center of Whatcom County, Washington, has bought a new building. The facility, now named the Rohr Center for Jewish Life will be the address for all of the Chabad activities at Western Washington University, in Bellingham.
Rabbi Avremi and Channy LaPine recently moved to Columbia, Missouri. They have opened a new Chabad House serving the Jewish students and faculty of the local state college, the University of Missouri. Rabbi Shlomo and Shifra Sharfstein moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where they have establish a new Chabad center at Georgia Tech and Georgia State Universities.
18th of Cheshvan, 5723 (1963)
In addition to my letter of yesterday's date, which was confined to a purely scien-tific discussion, it is this second letter which will express my real approach to you, the Torah approach of one Jew to another.
It is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you that the basic principle of the Jewish way of life is b'chol d'rachecha dei'eihu - "Know Him in all your ways." This principle has been enunciated in the Talmud, early and late Responsa, until it has been formulated as a psak-din [Jewish legal ruling] in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, sec. 231).
It is there explained that it is the life's mission of every Jew to acknowledge G-d even in the simplest pursuits of daily life such as eating, drinking, etc. How much more does this apply to the more essential aspects of one's life, especially in the case of one who has been endowed with special qualifications, knowledge, and distinction, etc., all of which place him in a position of influence. These are gifts of Divine Providence, which the Jew is duty-bound to consecrate to the service of G-d, to disseminate G-dliness through the Torah and mitzvot to the utmost of his ability in compliance of the commandments of hochei-ach tochiyach [you shall surely rebuke] and v'ahavta l'reicha kamocha [love your fellow as yourself] - the great principle of our Torah.
And since, according to the Torah view, everything in the world is ordered and measured and nothing is superfluous, the duty and zechus [merit] of every Jew are commensurate with his capacities and opportunities.
I have only seen you briefly, but I have formed some impressions which have been augmented by your book, the only one I have been able to obtain so far, and by what I heard about you and your station in the academic world and otherwise.
I have no doubt that you have unusual opportunities to disseminate the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] among wide circles of Jewish scientists, students, and laymen.
In recent years, especially in the USA, we have witnessed two tendencies among Jewish youth, striving in opposite directions.
On the one hand there has been an intensified quest for the truth, a yearning for closer identification with our people and our eternal values. At the other extreme, the pull of assimilation, intermar-riage, etc. has been gaining, too. Aside from the colleges and universities in a few major cities, the situation on campuses in regard to Kashrus, Shabbos, etc. is too painful to contemplate, not to mention the widespread confusion and misconceptions in respect to the most basic tenets of our faith.
If the first of the above-mentioned tendencies were to be stimulated and fully utilized at this auspicious time, the chances are very good that it would gain momentum and grow wider, and in time, also deeper. If, as our Sages say, to save one soul is to save a whole world, how much more so to save so many lost Jewish souls.
I want to express to you my fervent hope - and, if necessary, my urgent appeal also - that you put the whole weight of your prestige as a leading scientist behind a resolute effort in the cause of Torah and Mitzvoth.
I am informed that you have been elected this year's President of the Organization of Jewish Orthodox scientists. You could set the pace for the entire organization, individually and collectively, to follow your example, and set in motion a "chain reaction."
I will conclude with a well-known saying of the Baal Shem Tov, which I frequently heard from my father-in-law of saintly memory. "G-d sends down to earth a soul, which is truly a part of G-dliness, to sojourn, in a body for seventy-eighty years on this earth, in order to render a favor to another Jew, materially or spiritually."
If a single favor justifies a whole earthbound life, how great is the zechut of a consistent effort to help a fellow-Jew, and many of them, to find their true way, the way of the Torah and Mitzvoth in their day-to-day living.
May G-d grant that your words coming from the heart will penetrate the many hearts which are ready and eager to respond, and may G-d grant you success in this as in all your other endeavors for yourself and your family.
BLUMA is Yiddish, meaning "flower" (bloom).
BOAZ means "strength." Boaz (Ruth 2:1) was the second husband of Ruth. They were the grandparents of Yishai, father of King David. According to the Talmud, Boaz was the judge Ivtzan.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week we will be commemorating the birthday of the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber, who was known as the Rebbe Rashab. It is said that on a person's birthday, the "spiritual source of the soul shines powerfully." Therefore, it is important to understand what the central point of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership was, and how it differed from the other Chabad Rebbes.
The Rebbe explains how each of the Rebbes was characterized by a particular dimension which reflected his individual nature.
Chabad Chasidut is characterized by the ability to make the esoteric teachings of the Torah, which remained hidden from the majority of the Jewish community, accessible to every single Jew. The Rebbe Rashab was able to bring the teachings of Chabad Chasidut to an even more comprehensible level than his predecessors.
The Rebbe Rashab's teachings put a great emphasis on summarizing subject matter so that it could be more easily implemented into daily life. For this he is referred to by many as the "Rambam [Maimonides] of Chasidut," because he summarized Chasidut in the same way the Rambam summarized the Oral Law, making it comprehensible and giving it clear directions for every aspect of our conduct. The lessons of the Rebbe Rashab are easily understood and are concluded with directions for the practical application of those lessons.
In 1897 the Rebbe Rashab established a yeshiva, Tomchei Tmimim, and he was personally involved in every aspect of it, designing the curriculum, and asking for a detailed progress report on each student. He strove to raise both their standard of learning and their standard of behavior. It was a great honor to be accepted into the yeshiva, and its students were highly respected by the community.
The Rebbe Rashab published many of his teachings, which deal with improving one's character, how to prepare for prayer and the importance of prayer, and of studying Chasidut. May we all benefit from his teachings.
He looked and behold three men were standing over him. (Gen. 18:2)
According to Midrash Rabba, the three men were angels who appeared as a desert merchant, a produce merchant, and the captain of a ship. The world is divided into three parts: desert, inhabited land, and water. Each part of the world has an angel appointed over it. Thus, the three disguised angels represented the entire creation. On the passage, "These are the chronicles of heaven and earth when they were created," our Sages say, "Read not 'behibaram,' but read 'beAvraham.' " This alludes to the fact that the entire world was created for the sake of Abraham.
And he said, my L-rd, if I have found favor in your eyes, pass not away from your servant. (Gen. 18:3)
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 127a), Abraham was speaking to G-d and asked Him to wait until he brought the guests into his home; for the mitzva of welcoming guests and taking care of their needs is greater than welcoming G-d.
Abraham said to the young men, "Stay here with the donkey....We will worship and then return to you." (Gen. 22:5)
The words "Stay here - shvu lachem po" can also be translated as "you shall return." Abraham saw that the Holy Temple would be built and then destroyed, and that the Jews would be sent into exile. He also saw that Moshiach would bring us back and rebuild the Third Holy Temple. Abraham told them "you shall return" to rebuild the Temple. "With the donkey" refers to Moshiach, who is described as "a humble person riding on a donkey."
(Bereishit Rabba 56:2 as quoted in Discover Moshiach)
Many years ago in Poland there lived a wealthy Jewish merchant who bought flax from the nobility and then resold it abroad. At the same time, he pursued the commandment of "pidyun shevuim," ransoming prisoners. (In those days it was not unusual for Jews to languish in debtors' prisons when they failed to pay on time for leasing inns or other properties.)
One day the merchant was on his way to the estate of one of the Polish landowners, when he fell asleep at the reins of his carriage. As he dozed, the horses wandered off the path. When the merchant awakened he found himself on an unknown road . In front of him was a carriage driver fixing a broken wheel. Inside the carriage, a Polish gentleman sat looking angry and impatient. The merchant asked the nobleman if he could be of any assistance.
"Yes, you certainly can," he replied. "I would be most grateful if you would drive me to the inn just 15 minutes ride from here. I could use a bit of whiskey, and I will be happy to treat you to some also in return for the favor."
"I will be happy to take you to the inn," the merchant replied. On the way they spoke amiably, and the nobleman discovered that the merchant dealt in flax, which was one of his primary crops. "What a happy coincidence," he said, and they agreed to meet again to conduct some business.
When they arrived at the inn the Jewish innkeeper rushed to offer the Pole, who was his landlord, hospitality. The merchant went into the other room to say his afternoon prayers. He couldn't help but overhear snippets of conversation. "Moshke, you had better pay up the rent, now!" the landlord barked. The Jew responded meekly about the terrible snows which had kept customers away.
The merchant finished praying, and was about to leave, but the innkeeper begged him to partake of some refreshments. "No, I'd better be on my way," the merchant replied. "But tell me, are you having problems with the landlord?"
"He's drunk now. I hope when he sobers up he'll extend me credit a bit longer." The two Jews bade each other farewell, and the merchant departed.
When the flax harvest arrived, the Jewish merchant remembered the Polish landlord. He went to the estate, and the Pole was glad to make a deal with him. They settled on a price and drew up a contract. The conversation was friendly, and the merchant mentioned Moshke. "How is our friend, the innkeeper?"
"Oh, I put him in prison. Imagine, after all the chances I gave him, he still didn't pay me! Now, it's his wife's problem to come up with the money!"
"What! I can't believe you actually imprisoned the poor fellow! How much does he owe you?" asked the merchant.
The landlord mentioned a figure, exactly the sum agreed upon for the deposit. The merchant placed the money in the Pole's hand, and said, "There is the money he owes you. Now, set him free!"
"Fine. Now give me the money for the deposit and we'll conclude our deal."
"I'm sorry, Sir. I have no more money with me."
"I have never seen such a thing!" exclaimed the Pole. "You have just given all your money to an utter stranger, and in the bargain, you have lost out on a wonderful deal that could have made you a tidy profit!"
"What you say is true, Sir, except for one thing. That Jew is not a stranger to me. He is my brother, and it is my duty to redeem him."
The Pole was stunned. "You are a fine fellow. I will sign the contract without a deposit. I will also write a letter of recommendation to my brother-in-law, also a flax merchant. He will be anxious to do business with you."
The Jewish innkeeper was returned to his joyful family, and the gratitude they felt toward the merchant was inexpressible. But how on earth would they ever be able to repay him for his kindness? "I wouldn't sell my mitzva (commandment) for any amount of money!" the merchant declared, and they parted in happiness and with a deep feeling of brotherhood.
The merchant proceeded to the other landlord with the letter of recommendation. Just as the first Pole promised, his relative was happy to sell his flax to the Jew. They were about to conclude the deal when the merchant heard a child crying in Yiddish, "Daddy, Mommy, I want to go home!"
"Why is a Jewish child here, away from his parents?"
"I had to take him so his parents would pay what they owe me!"
The merchant suddenly rose from his seat. "I can't do business with a man who would take a child as hostage!"
The Pole was anxious not to lose the sale. "I'll have the child returned, just let's finish our business." Just as his brother-in-law had done, this man also concluded the deal without a deposit, and the merchant made a very nice profit on the sale of the flax. In addition, he accrued yet another precious mitzva to his account when the child was returned to his grieving parents.
The Jewish merchant was rewarded in this world as well as the next. But he was blessed with yet another great reward, the birth of two sons who lit up the world with their holiness, the illustrious tzadikim, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Reb Zusia of Anipoli.
When the service of the Jewish people over the centuries is considered as a whole, everything that is necessary to bring about the Redemption has been accomplished. There is no valid explanation for the continuation of the exile. Accordingly, at this time, our spiritual service must focus on "standing prepared to greet Moshiach," anxiously awaiting his revelation with the willingness to accept him eagerly.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Vayeira 5752 - 1991)