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Natural disasters, by their nature, raise the question of Divine Providence. How can G-d let this happen? How can so many innocent lives be lost?
When we see a person or a group of people committing great evil, it appears we can understand how it happens: human beings have free choice, and that person chose to do something evil. The punishment, well, G-d will see to that.
But hurricanes, earthquakes - the flooding of homes, the dispersal of people, the cost psychologically, financially, to say nothing of physical hardship, pain, suffering and death - where is the Divine Justice in that?
Some so-called "modern" thinkers have posited that either G-d is not All-Knowing, or He is not All-Powerful, or He is not All-Just (and by definition of "just," All-Merciful). In other words, Divine Omniscience, Divine Omnipotence and Divine Justice cannot all be true and operative. Two of the three, maybe, but not all three.
I say "modern" because this is an old question in theodicy, the study of Divine Justice. It's one, if not the, central subject of the book of Job. And it's no coincidence that G-d answers Job out of the whirlwind. Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed analyzes at length the concepts in the book of Job.
So the question really does not disprove the assertion that G-d is simultaneously Omniscient, Omnipotent and Just. (Indeed, is that not the definition of G-d?) All the question does is raise itself: confronted with the unknowable or the unanswerable, how do we respond? How should we respond?
In other words, one can reject the very basis for belief in G-d. Many so-called "rationalists" or "modernists" do. Or one can accept the limitations of the human mind and human intellect.
When we put on a philosopher's hat or a theologian's coat, we can enter the world of paradoxes and debates. But we must always bear in mind the statement of sage Rabbi Yannai that "we are unable to understand either the well-being of the wicked or the tribulations of the righteous." When it comes to the true, inner, spiritual reality, what you see outwardly is not necessarily what you get.
Nevertheless, the question remains - if we can't understand the WHY of a natural disaster, how are we to respond? For that, there is an answer. When confronted with tragedy, with the suffering of another, our task is not to understand the Divine reasons or judge the moral and spiritual value of the sufferer. Our Divinely ordained task is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness. Our focus must be on deeds that civilize, correct, heal, restore and improve.
If a hundreds-year old bridge is washed away, if a library is flooded, if a family is dispersed, if an individual needs medical care, if a child needs counseling - our task is to do, to get it done, to make goodness and kindness happen, not because we're such wonderful people, though we may be, but because that's our job. And that includes fixing what can be fixed - preventive measures - and in both cases figuring out the cost afterwards.
Asking Why and How Much both divert us from the essential question: What is the next act of goodness and kindness that I can perform, the act that will transform the world?
To read more visit davidybkaufmann.blogspot.com
The name of this week's Torah reading is Chayei Sara, literally the "life of Sara." As explained by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, the Hebrew name of a particular object or creation is what gives it its vitality and sustains it. Thus we must conclude that the entire Torah portion is somehow connected with the "life of Sara."
This, however, appears difficult to understand at first glance. Only the first verse of the Torah portion relates to Sara's life, whereas the rest of it speaks of seemingly unrelated matters: the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, and the passing of Abraham. Why then is the entire portion known as Chayei Sara?
The answer is that in truth, all of the events related in Chayei Sara - the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, as well as the passing of Abraham - express the sum and substance of our Matriarch Sara's life.
Concerning the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, the Torah tells us, "And Isaac brought her into the tent of Sara his mother, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife." When did Isaac agree to marry Rebecca? Only after he brought her into his mother's tent, and the miracles that used to occur during Sara's lifetime resumed.
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that there were three specific miracles: 1) Sara's Shabbat candles burned from one Friday afternoon till the next; 2) the dough she kneaded was specially blessed, and; 3) a cloud of holiness hovered over her tent. After Sara's death these miracles ceased; in the merit of Rebecca, they returned.
This occurred three years after Sara passed away, yet we see in these miracles a continuation of her life.
A similar connection exists to the passing of our forefather Abraham. The Torah states, "His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him." Isaac is mentioned before Ishmael, for by the time Abraham died, Ishmael had already repented. By giving his younger brother precedence, Ishmael demonstrated that the birthright rightly belonged to him.
This development was in the merit of Sara, who when she saw that Ishmael was not behaving properly, demanded that Abraham "cast him out...for he will not be heir." Sara's intent was for Ishmael to return to G-d in repentance, which subsequently occurred. Many years later, when Sara was no longer alive, Ishmael allowed his younger brother to lead the way, again an expression of the continuation of Sara's life. The entire Torah portion is therefore known as Chayei Sara, as all of the events it relates are connected to Sara's life.
Adapted from the Rebbe's talk on Shabbat Chayei Sara, 5736
The Power of the Kotel
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Six years ago, when my wife and I hosted our first High holiday services in Manhattan, I didn't know a single person in the Upper East Side. We held the services at the Jewish National Fund on 69th Street. We were nine people in shul, six of whom were close family members - my brother-in-law, Pinny Lew, his son, three friends and myself. I stepped onto the street and prayed that Rosh Hashana not for health nor wealth, but for a minyan.
I remember standing there noticing countless Italians filing past me heading to the Italian embassy right across the street. Amid the chaos, an elderly couple, clad in athletic gear, jogged by me. I stopped them, and upon confirming they were Jewish, invited them to join the services. At first they were reluctant due to their attire, but after coaxing them they agreed and ended up having a great time. It was at the kiddush meal after services that day that I realized just how important it is to make it a good one, for we hit it off right away and remained good friends since. Two years down the road, the husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Three months before his passing I helped him put on tefilin for the first time in his life. Right there and then we celebrated his "Bar Mitzva."
A short while later, I became acquainted with the couple's son with whom I also became very good friends. For years I tried to get him to don tefilin, but he always politely declined. Once he had I nearly had him - we had set up an appointment, but he cancelled at the last minute. Two weeks ago he emailed me to say he was visiting Israel for the first time in his life. I immediately told him he has to tour Jerusalem and especially the Kotel (Western Wall). I hooked him up with a friend of mine who was happy to show him around.
Anyone who has been to the Western Wall can testify to the magic aura that surrounds it. I was privileged to pray there just last Shabbat morning, and although I have prayed there countless times, the power of it never fails to captivate me. People from all over the globe are united by a pile of bricks, and yet the energy is electrifying. Indeed when my friend touched the precious stones for the first time, he became very emotional and broke down crying.
My Chabad colleague, Rabbi Weiss, who is stationed at the Kotel went over to this man and gently asked him if he'd like to don tefilin. He agreed immediately. In fact he emailed me right then to inform me of the good news, and the next day he told me he had returned to the Kotel to put on tefilin again. I thought, "Wow! I try for years to get him to put on tefilin and a total stranger gets him to do it within minutes!" Surely the Kotel stirred something in his soul, connected him to G-d in a most profound manner!
Just in case you're wondering what brought rabbi Vigler to Israel that Shabbat when he prayed at the Kotel, here's his explanation:
The Torah places strict demands on keeping one's word, and not fulfilling a vow is considered a serious misdeed.
About three years ago, there was a young woman by the name of Tali who was very involved in our community. She used to celebrate Shabbat with us each week and she became a beloved member of our congregation. She was the one who set up the kiddush and the person who my wife Shevy and I always knew we could turn to whenever we needed anything. In fact she was so close with our family that when my son Mendel was born on Shabbat morning and we needed somebody to watch my daughter Rosie, Tali was the person we called.
Like many Israelis in the area, Tali was trying to find her spouse. After two years of searching and dating, New York just didn't seem to be the right place for her. It simply wasn't going anywhere. She kept on dating but felt that while there were many guys "on the market," they too had many options available to them and for that reason were not able to commit to a firm relationship. The truth is that I agreed with her that this is a problem in Manhattan. Since there is such a wide variety of options for men and women some people have a hard time settling on one person. In the back of their minds they are thinking that perhaps there is something better out there.
During one of our many conversations I assured her that every person has a soul-mate in the world and that her spouse is out there somewhere. The Talmud states that 40 days before a child is born it is announced whom it will marry. In fact I even promised her that when she did find her husband I would personally perform her wedding!
Well when I gave her my word I didn't realize that she would get married at the busiest time of the year for me. Her wedding was scheduled for Friday at 1:00 p.m. in Israel, the week before Rosh Hashana. For the entire week before the High Holidays we are extremely busy. In addition, on the Saturday night after her wedding we would be holding a special service to recite the Selichot prayers! Of course, as the rabbi, I have to be in our shul the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana!
However, like we read in the Yom Kippur liturgy, a word is a word and so I boarded a plane to Israel to fulfill my promise to Tali. My flight arrived right before the wedding and I took the first flight out of Israel on Saturday night. I was in Israel for just over 24 hours... but a promise is a promise!
Rabbi Uriel Vigler and his wife Shevy co-direct Chabad Israel Center on the upper east side of New York City. Read more of Rabbi Vigler's posts at chabadic.com
The Chabad educational institutions in Budapest, Hungary, which include an early childhood center, the Beis Menachem School, the Open University for Judaic Studies, Sunday school and afternoon Hebrew school, recently obtained and renovated a four-story building totalling 5,000 sq. meters. A 600 sq. ft space nestled in a cluster of offices off Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard has become the new home of the Chabad Center of Clearwater, Florida. The center will serve Jews from Clearwater, Largo and Belleair. The Chabad Jewish Center of Cape Coral, Florida, recently purchased a beautiful 8,500 sq. ft. building to house their activities and services.
12 Cheshvan, 5711 
...With regard to your question concerning the shidduch [marriage prospect] for your sister-in-law with a bachelor of about 35 years, I would suggest that inquiries be made to find out why he did not marry before, and if the reasons are such that do not affect a Jewish home, it would be advisable for the two people to get better acquainted and ascertain what mutual attractions they have.
I was very pleased to read in your letter that your son desires to study for semichah [rabbinic ordination] and that the Rosh Yeshivah [dean of the yeshiva] regards him as fitting for it. I was also glad to hear that he devotes time to strengthening Yiddishkeit [Judaism] among the youth. I am sure you will encourage him to continue along this course and will help him achieve his ambition.
As to the question of a shidduch for your son, about which you write that you are afraid to do anything in this matter, not knowing if it would be suitable, the Torah teaches us not to rely on miracles where things can and ought to be approached in natural ways and means. However, while doing so it is necessary to bear in mind that these so-called "natural" ways and means are also miracles ordained by G-d, especially in the case of marriage, as it is said in Proverbs: An intelligent wife is a gift from G-d. At any rate, an attempt should be made in the usual way, and G-d will certainly lead it in such a way as to ensure a suitable and fitting wife for your son.
As to your apology for troubling me and your question whether you can do anything in return, this matter cannot be termed "trouble." You may have heard the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov as to how the three loves - love of G-d, love of Israel, and love of the Torah - are one, and a means to "Thou shalt love G-d thy G-d" is "Thou shalt love thy friend as thyself." There is no question of trouble here at all. May G-d grant that every one of us, including you, do all you and every one of us can to help others.
However, since you have offered to do something in return, and everything is connected with Divine Providence, I am enclosing herewith a copy of the Talk of Shabbos Bereishis. I call your attention to pars. 21 and 22, where you will find some suggestions as to what you could do to strengthen Torah and Yiddishkeit. As to what this would mean to me - I refer you to the Rambam (Maimonides' Hilchoth Teshuvah, ch. 3;4) where he states that "Everyone should regard the world on the basis that the good and bad deeds are equally balanced. Thus, through a bad deed one tips the scale of the bad side, G-d forbid, and through a good deed one tips the scale on the good side." Therefore, if you follow the suggestions in the above-mentioned paragraphs, you will increase the merits of the entire world, thus benefiting me also.
It would interest me to know what "fixed times" you have for the study of the Torah in general, and no doubt for the study of Chassidus also.
As already mentioned, you need not hesitate in writing to me at any time, but you must be patient if my reply is delayed because of pressure of work.
I hope to hear good news from you.
CHAGAI means "my festival." Chagai was one of the last of the prophets (Chagai 1:1). Chagai was one of five people who hid the vessels and treasures of the first Holy Temple before it was destroyed. A later Chagai was a fourth-century Palestinian scholar. (Kidushin 3:2)
CHEDVA means "delight." The last of the seven blessings at the Wedding ceremony reads "Blessed are You...who created joy and happiness, bride and groom, gladness, jubilation, cheer and delight (chedva), love, friendship, harmony and fellowship..."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we learn that our ancestress, Rivka (Rebecca), started kindling Shabbat lights from the age of three. In addition, she was endeared to her new husband, Yitzchak (Isaac), when he saw that, like his mother Sara, the light from her Shabbat lights lasted an entire week.
Every daughter of our people is called "A daughter of Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah." Every Jewish girl, even a three-year-old, inherits this wondrous power of illuminating the house through her candle lighting, for the entire week, till the next Erev Shabbat.
True, the lights which Sara and Rivka kindled, lasted (by a miracle) physically and shed a physical light for the whole week; but the inner effect of today's children lighting the Shabbat candles is the same. Although we cannot see it with our flesh-and-blood eyes, the Shabbat candles lit by the Jewish daughters in our age fill the home with light all week long.
In the merit of the Shabbat candles of the Jewish daughters, may we see, speedily in our days, the light of our righteous Moshiach, NOW!
Let it be that the girl to whom I say, "Lower your water jar"... and she will say, "Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink" (Gen. 24:14)
Eliezer was looking for a wife for Isaac who would embody all the good qualities in the world. Yet the "test" he devised would only determine if she was generous and good-hearted. This is in keeping with the statement of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (Avot 2:13) that a good heart contains within it all other positive character traits.
Our Sages describe the challenge of making a good match between husband and wife as being "as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea." The act of dividing water is easy; what's difficult is making each wave stand up on its own. Similarly, finding a partner to marry is the easy part; what's difficult is creating a stable marriage that will endure...
Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, "The matter proceeds from the L-rd" (Gen. 24:50)
There are three proofs in the Torah that G-d chooses a man's wife. From the Five Books of Moses, concerning the match between Isaac and Rebecca: "Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, 'The matter proceeds from the L-rd.'" From Prophets (Judges 14:4), concerning the marriage of Samson: "But his father and mother knew not that it was from the L-rd." And from Writings (Proverbs 19:14): "House and riches are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the L-rd."
(Moed Katan 18b)
Eliezer brought out silver and gold items and clothing and gave it to Rebecca (Gen. 24:53)
Jewelry can be worn by anyone but clothing must fit to size. How did Eliezer know what clothes would be appropriate for Rebecca? Eliezer knew that no home observed the laws of modesty as stringently as Abraham's. Thus, he carried with him a set of clothes as a sample of the type of clothing a member of Abraham's home would be expected to wear, thus giving both Rebecca and her family a lesson in the laws of tzniut (modesty).
Yaakov was a clever young man, who lived in a small village in White Russia. He studied Torah assiduously, and indeed, amassed a huge body of knowledge. In the same village lived several Lubavitcher Chasidim, who had long been trying to convince the talented lad to come with them to the Rebbe.
But Yaakov, who was not raised in a Chasidic home, was not interested. "I don't need a Rebbe," he would answer them. "If I come across a problem in the Talmud, I just keep studying till I solve it myself."
Nonetheless, one time his curiosity got the better of him, and he accompanied the Chasidim to the Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber (known as the Rebbe Rashab). They arrived in Lubavitch on Friday. That Shabbat, Yaakov found himself in an unprecedented state of spiritual elevation.
After Shabbat, as they prepared to leave, Yaakov wrote a short note to give to the Rebbe, as was customary. He trembled as he waited his turn for a private audience. When Yaakov entered the Rebbe's room he found the Rebbe sitting and studying a book. The Rebbe did not lift his eyes to look at him. Yaakov walked to the desk and placed his note on it. The Rebbe gave no sign that Yaakov was even in the room.
Suddenly the Rebbe stood up and paced back and forth. As if talking to himself, he began to speak in Russian: "On! Nyet on!" ("It's him! It's not him!") On! Nyet on!..." The Rebbe paused for a long while then pronounced: "Nyet on!" He then sat down and resumed his study.
Yaakov left the Rebbe's chamber confused and puzzled. Not only had the Rebbe ignored him, but his strange words kept reverberating in his head. Yaakov did not know what to make of it.
One day Yaakov was reading the newspaper when he noticed a contest sponsored by the University of Petersburg. Whoever solved the mathematical problem printed in the paper would win 300 rubles. Yaakov saw the contest as a personal challenge. He studied the problem and sent off his answer by mail. A short time later a letter arrived from the University informing him that he had won. Enclosed with the letter was a personal invitation from the head of the mathematics department, and a train ticket.
Yaakov traveled to Petersburg. The professors were initially surprised by Yaakov's traditional Jewish attire, but quickly discovered his rare genius. After awarding him the monetary prize, they offered him a full scholarship to the University, which Yaakov accepted.
In the beginning Yaakov maintained his Jewish way of life. But the more he progressed academically and socially at the University, the further away from Judaism he wandered. The external trappings were the first to go; eventually Yaakov completely abandoned Judaism.
A few years later Yaakov was appointed as a full professor. Of course, beforehand, Yaakov had to renounce his Judaism and convert to Christianity. But he didn't blink an eye as he furthered his academic career.
As time passed, however, Yaakov's conscience began to bother him. Although he deeply regretted his actions, he was unable to rectify the situation. In those days, a gentile who converted to Judaism or a Jew who accepted Christianity but later rescinded were subject to the death penalty.
By that time Yaakov had become an accomplished hunter; the sport served to divert his attention from his frequent pangs of conscience. One day while out in the field, Yaakov's horse began to gallop uncontrollably. The reins were useless, and it was clear that barring a miracle, these were the last seconds of Yaakov's life. At that moment Yaakov resolved to repent and return to G-d. Incredibly, the horse stopped galloping and came to a halt.
That night Yaakov packed a small bundle and left his house, leaving everything behind him for good. He wandered from city to city and from town to town, terrified of being discovered. His return to Judaism had endangered his very life, but his resolve to live as a Jew was unwavering.
One day, while Yaakov was dining at an inn in a remote village, the police burst in and began to check the patrons' identity papers. Yaakov, who was not carrying any identification, was taken into custody.
At the police station, the officer kept scrutinizing the photograph in his hand, then glancing up at Yaakov. From the corner of his eye Yaakov saw that it was a picture of himself as he used to look at the University: clean-shaven, nattily attired, and with a carefully styled lock of hair on his forehead.
The investigator was clearly hesitant. Unable to decide he began to mutter under his breath. "On!" ("It is him!") A second later he changed his mind. "Nyet on!" ("It's not him!") "On!" "Nyet on!" Back and forth he went, studying the photograph and Yaakov in turn. "Nyet on!" he ultimately concluded, and ordered that Yaakov be freed.
Yaakov left the police station flabbergasted; he knew where he had last heard those very words. Immediately he set off for Lubavitch, and remained there for the rest of his life.
If a Jew has no merits except that he hopes in Redemption, he is fit to be redeemed.
(Yalkut Tehillim, Remez 36)