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Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water.
Imagine taking more than a few breaths in a room filled with air made stale from a party the previous evening. Or consider the taste of a corned beef on rye (hold the pickle, it has too much sodium) that's been in the fridge for a whole week. And who would even dream of taking a sip of water that had been sitting out for a whole month!
Though you might not become ill from breathing stale air for a few minutes or eating one questionable corned-beef-on-rye, you could become very sick from constantly breathing old air and eating old food.
Fresh air, fresh food, fresh water.
These commodities are necessary to live not only healthy lives, but to life in general.
Jewish teachings are collectively assigned the name "Torah" and Torah is often referred to as Torat Chaim - the Living Torah. Judaism is a living religion. For us to feel the vibrancy of Judaism, we must live it on a daily basis.
This means that in order to maintain our Jewish health, yesterday's "air" and last week's "food" are not enough.
The memories of a family Passover seder of years gone by are great for reminiscences, but what have I done freshly Jewish TODAY?
Chewing over, for weeks, a thought heard at a Jewish lecture attended last month is great, but what have I done today that will be like a breath of fresh air for my soul?
Remembering on Friday night the Sabbath candles Bubby lit and the fresh challa Zaidy blessed is beautiful and will bring tears to many an eye, but lighting Sabbath candles this Friday before Shabbat and saying the blessing over the challa this Friday evening will be a refreshing and restful way to end a stress-filled and tiresome week.
Our Sages teach that "Every day the Torah should be as new." This does not mean that we should bend and bow every time a new translation of the Bible comes out, or fawn over a new "retelling" of the story of the Creation. It also does not mean that we can change, reshape, or alter those parts of Torah and Jewish tradition we feel are not conducive to life, today.
For, by calling Judaism a living religion we do not mean to say that it can grow and change without restrictions.
The Living G-d gives us a living Torah which is true and relevant for all times and all places.
Living Judaism means that Judaism is alive and that we are truly alive when we live it on a daily basis.
Throughout the day, breath deeply the fresh, life-supporting air of mitzvot. Savor the fresh taste of daily Torah study. Experience Living Judaism.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob castigates his sons before his passing and takes away both priesthood and kingship from his firstborn, Reuven. The kingship is then given to Judah, as reward for two good deeds: his suggestion that Joseph be sold, thus preventing the brothers from killing him; his public confession about his sin with Tamar, thus saving her.
This explanation, however, is insufficient, for at first glance it would appear that Reuven displayed the very same strength of character as his brother Judah, if not more.
Whereas Judah suggested that Joseph be sold for monetary gain, Reuven suggested that Joseph be thrown into a pit in order to return later and free Joseph. Furthermore, even when it came to admitting their transgressions, Reuven was on a higher level than Judah, as Judah only confessed in order to save the life of Tamar. Reuven, on the other hand, who is not even considered to have committed a true sin, was so penitent that for over a decade he was still fasting in sackcloth and ashes.
To understand, we need to recognize the difference between priesthood and kingship - which Jacob took away from Reuven, and the birthright of the firstborn - which Reuven retained.
Kingship and priesthood are primarily expressed in service to others. A king administers the affairs of state; a priest bestows blessings and teaches Torah. Being a firstborn, however, involves only the individual and has no bearing on one's relationship with others.
Thus, although Reuven tried to save his brother and immersed himself in a long period of penitence, the focus of his service was on achieving his own spiritual perfection rather than on helping other people.
In truth, it was because of his suggestion that Joseph was thrown into the pit full of snakes and scorpions. Even Reuven's penance was turned inward, for had he not been preoccupied with "sackcloth and ashes," perhaps he could have prevented Joseph from being sold and thereby precluded the entire Egyptian exile!
Judah, by contrast, actually saved others through his actions, even though his own spiritual service may have been on a lower level. He saved Joseph from the pit and saved Tamar from death. It was this demonstration of self-sacrifice that proved to Jacob that Judah was the one who was worthy of kingship, for the essence of kingship is service to others.
From this we learn that a Jew must never concentrate on his own spiritual state to the detriment of his fellow Jew; love of one's fellow Jew must always be of prime importance. In this way, even if his own service is somewhat lacking, the merit of his love for his fellow Jew will connect him to the entire Torah and hasten the Final Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 15
A Walk in the Park
by Lieba Rosen
One cold and rainy winter Shabbat morning found our son Yisroel fearlessly striding along the leafy roads toward Hampstead (in Northwest London), where he read the Torah each week in the local synagogue. He hardly noticed the perfectly manicured privet hedges nor the beautiful trees and flowers in the front gardens as he walked steadfastly towards his destination. His thoughts were focused on the matter at hand: arriving in shul on time to fulfill his responsibility as the baal koreh - Torah reader. As he hurried on his way, Yisroel was overtaken by a red London bus.
Back in the '80s, when this incident took place, London buses still had both a driver and a conductor aboard. While the driver drove the bus, the conductor, wearing a heavy metal ticket machine strapped to his body, supervised the passengers boarding and dismounting the bus. Once they were seated, the conductor would come to their seats collecting their fares in cash and issuing paper tickets from his ticket machine.
On that particular Shabbat, a bus drove past my son as, dressed in his Sabbath best, he purposefully made his way along the winding roads. The driver turned towards the conductor and venomously remarked, "Look at that Jewish kid, walking in his old-fashioned black clothing with that silly hat on his head. I hate the Jews; why do they have to be different? They think they own the world."
Jack, the conductor, a 19-year-old Cockney lad, covered with tattoos and into the world of '80s punk, angrily retorted, "What has that kid or any Jew ever done to you? Why do you hate him?"
The unexpected irritation in Jack's voice surprised the driver. What's got into him, he wondered, Jack is usually so even-tempered. He shrugged his shoulder and carried driving.
But the unprovoked anti-Semitic outburst had unsettled the conductor. Jack had never told his workmates that he was Jewish. Jack's father, Avrohom, a friend of ours, was a Holocaust survivor. Before the war he had lived in Europe. With the onset of World War II, the Nazis had invaded his hometown and his life was changed forever. By a series of miracles, Avrohom survived and escaped to England, the only member of his family still alive after the war.
Avrohom eventually met and married a Jewish girl and had two children, Jack and Donna. Avrohom, now called Arthur, was kind and gentle, but he no longer celebrated the religion of his youth. After his parents divorced, Jack left home, abandoning the few Jewish practices his father had maintained.
Now living alone, Avrohom was befriended by a work-colleague, a Lubavitcher chasid, who often invited him to his home. Slowly Avrohom began to again observe the commandments he had taken pride in as a youth. Eventually Avrohom remarried and become fully observant. He was content and fulfilled with his new life, but was troubled that he had not raised or educated his children to observe Jewish traditions.
After that Shabbat, Jack called his father and told him what had happened. He was extremely upset at the anti-Semitism displayed by the bus driver, and was surprised at his own strong reaction. Avrohom was amazed by Jack's story, and was naturally curious to know the identity of the boy who had so incensed the driver, and consequently had had such an effect on Jack. Assuming that it was likely to be a Lubavitcher boy, he went to the Lubavitcher synagogue and after making some inquiries, identified our Yisroel as the protagonist.
Avrohom animatedly told my son, who had been totally oblivious, the drama that had played out on the bus.
Fast forward a year or so. Jack planned a vacation to the United States, and would be spending some time in New York. Avrohom begged his son to visit the Rebbe in 770. Jack had no desire to do any such thing, but when Avrohom persisted, he reluctantly agreed. When he went past the Rebbe, the Rebbe suggested to Jack that he should study in a yeshiva. The very notion seemed preposterous to Jack; he had no affiliation with anything Jewish and the idea of learning in a yeshiva, whatever that was, was completely alien to him.
However, the Jewish spark which had been aroused on the bus that Shabbat began to stir within him. Very slowly, he became more involved in Judaism. Some 10 years after that fateful Shabbat morning, about nine years after his first visit to the Rebbe, he enrolled in a yeshiva.
More than a quarter century had passed since those events. The synagogues my son attended in the East End have an aging, dwindling membership, and most have long since closed. The Hampstead shul, being in fashionable Northwest London, is fortunately flourishing.
Each Shabbat, sees Yisroel yet again striding along leafy lanes to read the holy words of the Torah. Nowadays he has his own son or two in tow, as he makes the long weekly walk in a far-flung corner of the United States to his own Chabad House, where he continues to be a devoted emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and lamplighter of Jewish souls.
Reprinted from The N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Thank You for Everything
You be the illustrator ... Imagine a children's book with bright colorful artwork, personalized and enhanced by your child's own drawings! Thank You for Everything, the very first "I-Can-Draw Keepsake Book," leaves room for each child's creativity to shine. Within a colorful frame, children have a chance to draw their own family, their own favorite foods, the house they live in, and so much more. It's a great way to increase the quality of gratitude, and a special activity for parents and children to share. Thank You for Everything will become every child's most treasured book.This newest release from HaChai is written by Pia Shlomo and illustrated by Patti Argoff.
27 Elul 5717 
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive your letter of September 17th, and was particularly gratified with its contents, that you are well and happy, and gradually taking over your routine activities.
There is a well-known saying to the effect that making a good start sets off a good chain of reaction for continued success. This is especially true in marriage, which begins a new life. Therefore it is important to start it off well, to ensure continued happiness and contentment. May G-d help that this be so in your case.
Most important of all is to start the new life in a way that corresponds with the teachings of our Torah, the Law of Life, and then the going is much easier than one anticipated.
This brings me to the next point. You write that you do not want to use the expression of "promise to do," but would rather use the expression "to try to do," as you are afraid to commit yourself, lest you would find it difficult to live up to your promise. Experience has shown that when a person makes a promise to do something, this very promise gives him the strength to carry it out without hesitation, and with greater ease.
Whereas, when one does not commit himself, promising only "to try," or "to do one's best," then, when the matter comes up, and there is temptation not to do it, he is more likely to fail, saying to himself that, after all, he did not promise to do it, but only "to try," and therefore he is not breaking his word, and his conscience doesn't bother him. That is why I think that you should be determined to observe the laws, etc., and, knowing that you have made a promise to do so, will give you not only greater strength, but also peace of mind, as it would eliminate all doubts and hesitations.
Needless to say, if the things in question were impossible to carry out, there would be no room for making a promise. However, in this case, where it concerns the practical observance of the Divine Commandments, given by G-d, the Creator, Who knows also the abilities of the human beings, it is certain that He would not have commanded to do anything which is beyond one's power to do, for G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and does not impose a greater obligation that one is capable to fulfill. Moreover, the laws that He commanded are not for His sake, inasmuch as G-d is not deficient of anything, but they are for the good of the observer.
You will recall what I said to you when you were here that, in regard to the practical precepts, the less one debates with himself, but, rather, fulfills them with simple faith in G-d, the easier and the more natural life is, and the more harmony and happiness it brings. For one of the essential aspects of the Torah is to serve G-d with joy. Such service is carried out, not only through the act of fulfillment of a certain precept, such as putting on tefillin, or the lighting of candles, etc., but every action, word, and thought, which are dedicated to G-d with a spirit of joy of being able to serve the Creator, brings additional light in one's world, and in the world at large.
On the threshold of the New Year, may it bring blessings to us all, I send you and yours my prayerful wishes for a good and pleasant year, materially and spiritually, with the traditional, and all-embracing blessing of kesivo vechasimo toivo [that you be inscribed and sealed for good].
Although you do not mention it, I trust that you duly received my two previous letters. As for your question with regard to using certain expressions, you may, of course, use the expression that best describes your thoughts and feelings, and also in any language you find most convenient.
TIRTZA means pleasing. Tirtza was one of the five daughters of Tzelafchad who inherited a portion in the Land of Israel upon her father's death. (Numbers 26:33) Concerning the daughters of Tzelafchad, the Talmud says they were wise, inquisitive, and righteous.
TZURIEL means "G-d is my rock." Tzuriel was a leader of the Merari family from the tribe of Levi. (Numbers 3:35)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion begins, "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years." Commenting on this verse, the Talmud states: "Jacob, our ancestor, did not die."
The Talmud explains that the concept that Jacob did not die is derived from commentaries on the verse in Jeremiah, " 'Do not fear, My servant Jacob,' says G-d, 'Do not become dismayed, O Israel. I will save you from afar and your descendants from the land of their captivity.' "
The Talmud concludes, "An equation is established between Jacob and his descendants."
To this discussion in the Talmud, Rashi adds, "Jacob lives forever."
A comprehensive discussion on Jacob's eternal life would take many pages. So we will only focus on the interdependency of Jacob's eternal life with that of his descendants - each and every Jew.
The Talmud brings as its proof that Jacob is still alive the verse from Jeremiah and explains that "it only appears that he died: he is alive."
Therefore, Jacob's vitality, even today, is connected to his descendants - the Jewish people - and their "lives."
What is life? Life for a Jew is Torah and mitzvot. And Jacob's vitality is connected to every Jew's study of Torah and observance of mitzvot.
But what if a Jew does not study so much Torah, or does not observe so many mitzvot? Concerning this question, the Rebbe explains that "an emphasis on the failure of other Jews to conduct themselves according to the Torah and its mitzvot represents a superficial appreciation of their being. Furthermore, saying that there is a lack of life in any of Jacob's descendants detracts from the life of Jacob himself, for his 'life' is dependent on theirs, as it were."
Therefore, to enhance Jacob's eternal life we should continue to upgrade our performance of mitzvot and study of Torah. But, at the same time, we should not judge other people's level of observance for this itself detracts from Jacob's life.
Jacob lived (Vayechi) in the land of Egypt seventeen years (Gen. 47:28)
The best years of Jacob's life were equal to the numerical equivalent of the word "vayechi," which is 34. These were the 17 years from Joseph's birth until he was sold, and the 17 years Jacob spent in Egypt.
Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which will befall you in the last days (Gen. 49:1)
As Rashi explains, "He desired to reveal the end [of Israel's exile], but the Divine Presence (Shechina) withdrew from him." Yet if the Divine Presence was no longer upon Jacob, how was he able to utter other prophecies about Israel's future? The answer is that the "Shechina" - Jacob's ability to cause G-dliness to be manifested in the physical world, from the Hebrew "shochein," (meaning to dwell) - was removed from him, but not his prophetic ability. Jacob knew when the "last days" would occur, but was unable to communicate this knowledge to others.
He washes his garments in wine (Gen. 49:11)
The Alter Rebbe explained that whenever a Jew does a mitzva, a "garment" for his soul is formed. Wine is symbolic of joy, as it states in Psalms (104:15), "And wine that gladdens man's heart." "Washing our garments in wine" thus means that we should always strive to observe the commandments out of a sense of joy.
Once, there was a wealthy man whose daughter had reached marriageable age. As befitting his station, he sought a groom who was a great scholar, and he travelled to one of the famed Torah academies to find such a young man.
The head of the academy recommended a worthy young scholar named Rabbi Yaakov, and upon meeting him, the prospective father-in-law was very pleased. The young scholar, however, made three conditions before agreeing to the proposal: he must have a room where he could study undisturbed; his wife must allow him unlimited time for his studies; and he would have permission to leave his wife for a year to take care of some important business.
The wealthy man agreed to the requests, but he returned home to obtain his daughter's agreement. After her father described the young man's excellent qualities, the girl agreed, and the couple was married. The groom studied Torah day and night, and his new wife was impressed with his character and his behavior. Indeed, the match was right in her eyes, and she was content.
After the first year of marriage had passed happily, Rabbi Yaakov reminded his wife and father-in-law of the promise they had made to allow him to travel on business for a year's time. They accompanied him to the outskirts of town, and he continued on his way to Rome and to his mysterious mission.
In Rome, the ruler had an intelligent son whom he had betrothed to a foreign princess. The princess was also bright, and she stipulated that she would only marry a man who was well-versed in all the knowledge of the world. She proposed that he undertake a course of study before their marriage, and she would do the same.
She began to study under the tutelage of a priest who was vicious anti-Semite. The priest instilled in the girl such a hatred of Jews, that she asked her future father-in-law to force all the Jews to convert, or else to expel them from his realm. He considered her request, and in addition, decided to invite the Pope to deliver a sermon against the Jews at the royal wedding.
On the very day that the royal wedding was announced, Rabbi Yaakov arrived in Rome. News of the arrival of a Torah scholar of great repute spread through the city, and even reached the ears of certain notables close to the Pope, who mentioned it at the Papal court. The Pope became curious to meet this young scholar, and summoned him. The Pope was very impressed with the depth and breadth of Rabbi Yaakov's knowledge. Soon, word of this wise Jew reached even the royal court, and he was summoned to the king.
Rabbi Yaakov received favor from everyone who saw and heard him, and of all the scholars in the kingdom, he was selected to instruct the betrothed prince. This was, of course, the mission for which he had come to Rome.
Elijah the Prophet at times reveals himself to certain select Jews, and now, he appeared to Rabbi Yaakov, saying, "The Pope is a secret Jew, a descendant of Marranos." Elijah told him where and when he could find the Pope deep in prayer, wearing his talit and tefilin.
When Rabbi Yaakov appeared at the door of that room, the Pope was filled with fear. Immediately, Rabbi Yaakov calmed his fears. "Elijah the Prophet has sent me to you on a matter of great importance to the Jews of Rome. You will be commanded to deliver a sermon attacking the Jews at the royal wedding. You must not speak until I come to you again."
The day of the wedding finally arrived, and guests from every realm filled the great halls of the palace. As word spread that the Pope himself would soon deliver a sermon, excitement began to build. The Pope, however, did not appear, as he was awaiting Rabbi Yaakov.
Suddenly the renowned Jewish scholar appeared before the guests - in the company of the Pope - carrying a closed bag. He summoned the prince, and in front of the entire assemblage, he announced that he would like to show them a wonder. He bid the prince put his hand into the sack and withdraw from it whatever he would find within. The prince put in his hand and withdrew a beautiful, gem-encrusted crown. The crowd cheered.
Then, he asked that the princess come and do the same. She was happy to oblige, but when she withdrew her hand, she was grasping a frightful snake, which at once entwined itself around her neck. She uttered the most horrible cries, but everyone was rooted to their place in terror.
Rabbi Yaakov began to speak, "The prince has received what he deserves, and the princess has received her just reward as well. Princess, if you order the annulment of the evil decrees you have instigated, you will be saved, if not, you will perish."
Needless to say, the princess acquiesced to his demand. Rabbi Yaakov then departed; not a soul dared approach him. The King arose from his throne, still enthralled by what he had just witnessed. Before all his subjects and before the prince and princess, he vowed never to harm the Jews of his realm. Rabbi Yaakov, his mission completed, returned to his home and his happy wife.
Exile means being in the dark: inhabiting a world in which a corporeal husk obscures its rich spiritual content; a world that is deaf to the chimes of the cosmic clock of history and blind to its own steady advance toward harmonious perfection. Only under such conditions are our positive deeds vested with the eternality that categorizes the messianic; were we privy to the "end of days," our deeds would be of a provisional nature, buttressed by our clear vision of history's progression toward perfection.
(Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Vayechi, 5741 by Yanki Tauber, meaningfullife.com)