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We've all seen pictures of optical illusions: which line is longer? Is it a vase or two faces? Which dots are darker? But did you realize that every instant you are encountering optical illusions?
Just days before his passing, Rebbe Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was discussing this very topic with his son, Rabbi Dov Ber. "Do you see that ceiling beam," the Rebbe asked his son. "It is pure G-dliness," he declared.
Touching the beam, Rabbi Dov Ber objected, "But father, all I feel is material wood."
"That is because you are touching it with physical hands," his father explained.
Does it seem hard to imagine that everything in this world is, as Rebbe Shneur Zalman proclaimed, pure G-dliness? Try considering the following and it might be easier.
Every part of matter is made up of atoms and even smaller particles. These atoms and all of their particles are constantly in motion. Yet, when we look at a ceiling beam for instance, what we see is a very solid, stationary object.
Now, rather than discussing particles of matter, consider pure G-dliness. According to Jewish philosophy, G-d is very much in touch with the world He created. He did not simply create the world and then leave it to its own devices. In fact, the world continues to exist because, and only because, G-d is constantly reinvesting His life-force in it. This means that every object, from the largest building to the smallest particle, from the squirmiest jello to the most solid ceiling beam, exists only because it is constantly being reinvested with G-dliness. It is pure G-dliness!
When Rebbe Shneur Zalman explained to his son that he was feeling physicality because he was using his physical hand, it's like the 3-D glasses that let you see everything three dimensionally, or rose colored glasses that make everything seem rosy. The fact that everything looks 3-D or seems rosy doesn't mean that either of those conditions are true. Similarly, because we look at or touch things with physical limbs doesn't mean that they lack G-dliness.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe has been saying for some time now that Moshiach is already here; if we only open our eyes we will see him. Most people don't go through life with their eyes closed. So what does "open your eyes" mean? Perhaps the Rebbe is not talking about physical eyes but spiritual eyes.
How do we open our spiritual eyes? How about trying to see the positive points in others. Or, each time something happens "coincidentally," realizing that Divine Providence orchestrated the event. Or, thanking G-d for all the good you have in your life (if this seems difficult, spend just a few moments with the less fortunate and you'll understand that there's a lot to be thankful for).
Looking at everything with spiritual eyes is unlike using rose-colored or 3-D glasses, though. For, with spiritual eyes, we see the true essence of everything; as Rebbe Shneur Zalman declared, everything is pure G-dliness. And once we have exercised our spiritual eyes in this manner, they will be healthy and fit enough to see Moshiach, who is already here.
One of Pharaoh's harshest decrees against the Jews was his order to throw every newborn boy into the Nile, as related in this week's Torah portion, Shemot. The Passover Hagada, read each year at the seder, adds the following insight: " 'And our burden' - this recalls the drowning of the male children, as it is said, 'Every son that is born you shall cast into the river, but every daughter you shall keep alive.' "
Our Sages explain that the word "burden" is equated with the raising and educating of children, implying the preeminent responsibility resting on Jewish parents. Our Sages understood that great effort must be expended in order to rear Jewish children properly. Parents and teachers must share involvement in this holy task, investing time and energy to ensure a younger generation that will continue the Jewish way of life.
And yet, together with the recognition that raising Jewish children is hard work, the Torah promises that the rewards we reap will be well worth the effort. In fact, the more self-sacrifice a parent has on behalf of his children's Jewish education, the more he is assured that his children will be strong in their Judaism and untouched by Pharaoh's evil decree, whether thousands of years ago or today. It was precisely those children born under the threat of extinction in Egypt who were the first to recognize G-d at the splitting of the Red Sea, declaring, "This is my G-d and I will extol Him."
Why should raising Jewish children require so much effort? Because our children are the foundation upon which the entire Jewish nation rests. This secret has long been known to our enemies. It was for this very reason that in communist Russia the authorities tried especially hard to suppress Torah learning in schools attended by the youngest of Jewish children. "They have plenty of time to learn Torah when they grow up," the communists claimed, knowing full well that the Jewish child's formative years spent in a Jewish atmosphere posed the greatest threat to the atheistic regime.
In the Talmud, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla is remembered because of his educational innovation - the institution of publicly funded Torah classes for children, commencing at the age of five or six, in all locations where Jews dwelled. Thousands of years later his name is still revered because of this accomplishment.
Parents must therefore do all in their power - physically, spiritually and monetarily - to ensure that their children attend schools where they will be instilled with our timeless Jewish values. For the education of our children is indeed our "burden"; at times, personal sacrifice may be required. In the merit of this, we will raise a generation who will again be the first to recognize G-d, in the Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.
Adapted from the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 1
Coming Full Circle
by Hillel Schrier
I was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the late 50s. When I reached school age, we moved to a suburb in Long Island. I attended Hebrew school classes and services at the local Jewish center where I became a Bar Mitzva. We returned to Crown Heights often to visit family who continued to live there for the next 20 years.
During those visits, I had the desire, but not the right words, to speak with the Lubavitcher boys my age, who wore yarmulkes, white shirts and tzitzit. I was both curious and drawn to them for some reason. I wanted them to know I was a proud Jew too, though dressed like Jews in my neighborhood.
Fast forward four decades to the spring of 2005. A newlywed Chinese woman was patiently awaiting her American husband's retirement and move across the globe from the United States to China. Sadly, her husband, a professor at California State University in San Bernardino, passed away before he could return to China to spend the rest of his life with the woman he met and married while on Sabbatical leave the year before. The only family the late professor had was his new wife. Thus, to have his body released for a proper Jewish burial required that the wife travel from China to the U.S. For three weeks the university tried unsuccessfully to use their influence to acquire a visa for the widow's travel. That's when Rabbi Sholom Harlig, emissary of the Rebbe in Inland, California, was contacted by another Jewish professor for help. Rabbi Harlig contacted Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, the Rebbe's emissary in Beijing, China, to see if he could assist. Fortunately, Rabbi Freundlich had worked closely with the U.S. Ambassador in China, and was able to obtain a travel visa for the grief stricken widow in just three days. Rabbi Freundlich had no idea how far reaching this mitzva would be.
While the widow was in transit, an e-mail was sent out to members of a Southern California Conservative congregation that I belonged to, in an attempt to secure a minyan for the funeral to be held at a local cemetery. Despite not knowing the deceased, I answered the e-mail to say I was available to be counted as one of the ten men. It was then that I learned the funeral was in Los Angeles, a little more than an hour from my home. I didn't get into Los Angeles more than a couple times a year, and frankly I was not very excited about this trip. However, half way into my drive I recall reflecting deeply about the purpose of my trip. I had a sense, that what was about to transpire would have a lasting effect on my life. I finally arrived at the quaint strip of green cemetery. I saw the one person I knew driving off in a car, destination unknown as my uneasiness increased. The sun was hot that day as I noticed a group of Yeshiva students trying to stay cool, shirt tails and tzitzit dangling down their legs, under the shade of a few small trees. For a moment I felt like I was back in Crown Heights. This sight was a comfort to me as I stood in a foreign place with people I didn't know. I thought about approaching the young men, but while the desire was there, the right words were still not.
The people I knew from my shul returned with the distraught widow, and the graveside service began. Rabbi Harlig began speaking about the deceased and then the traditions of Jewish burial for the benefit of the college personnel in attendance. He then spoke about the Jewish soul and I learned some things as well. We all looked on as the yeshiva students began to shovel earth over the casket. As the perspiration flowed down their faces, I stepped in and took over for one of them. When we were done, Rabbi Harlig asked my name and where I was from. As I traced back all the places I had lived from the East to West Coast, the rabbi was shocked to learn that I lived my early years of life in Crown Heights. He said we were practically neighbors. He was also very familiar with the "Empire Shteibel," just across the street from our apartment that my Orthodox Zeyde (grandfather), of blessed memory, had prayed in more than 50 years ago.
Rabbi Harlig then asked about the family I had on the West Coast. When I told him it was just me and my three sons, he replied, "And now you have us!" I asked who he meant by us. He replied, "Me and my family!" I was naturally a bit skeptical at first hearing this. How could this man I just met minutes ago make the claim that he, his wife and eight children had all of a sudden become my family? I had not even met them yet to find out if they liked me or me them. Little did I know that the Rabbi was not restricting this claim to his immediate family, but he was including all his siblings and parents, as well.
I accepted the invitation to come for Friday night dinner at his home. I tried to prepare my 8-year-old twins, Zach adn Alex, for what they were about to experience based on my internet research on Chabad, which I only previously knew by the name Lubavitch. My boys asked if the rabbi's children were normal kids. I told them they would have to wait and decide for themselves. We stayed late after dinner that Friday night, as we enjoyed the Lubavitch hospitality. My children played with the rabbi's children well beyond their normal bedtimes developing lasting friendships.
On the drive home, my twins asked when we would see those kids again. When I told them we would be going back for Shabbat services the next morning, I received an excited "Yes!" from the back of the car. I asked them if they thought the rabbi's children were normal. To which one of them answered, "Oh yeah, they're normal. But while playing basketball with them, every time their fringes bounced in front of my face, I would think about G-d." I replied, "Good, cause that's what they're for!"
We spent three consecutive days with our new friends, and were made to feel very much like family. Since that first Shabbat meal together, my sons and I have continued to attain a deeper understanding of our Torah and our purpose in this world.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
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Teves, 5718 
... Since the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] and the Jewish way of life comes from G-d and his infinite wisdom, they are not subject to man's approval and selection. Human reason is necessarily limited and imperfect. Its deficiencies are obvious, since with time and study it improves and gains knowledge, and personal opinions change. To confine G-d to human judgment would do violence even to common sense.
In our long history we have had the greatest human minds possible, who nevertheless realized their limitations when it came to the knowledge of G-d and His laws and precepts. We have had great thinkers and philosophers, who not only fully accepted the Torah and Mitzvos, but have been our guiding lights to this day, while the dissident groups and individuals (whose number are very few) were cut from our people and either disappeared completely, or, worse still, continued as painful thorns in the flesh of our people and humanity at large. Anyone who is familiar with our history requires no illustrations or proofs of the aforesaid.
I trust you will reflect on the above and you will cherish the great and sacred knowledge which has been handed down to each and every one of us, in the midst of our people, generation after generation, from the revelation at Mount Sinai to the present day.
Accepting this sacred tradition unconditionally and without questions does not mean that there is no room for any intellectual understanding.
Within our limitations there is a great deal which we can understand, and which we can further enrich, provided the approach is right. For G-d in His infinite grace has given us insight into various aspects of His commandments, an insight which grows deeper with our practicing them in our daily life and making them our daily experience. In this way the Jew attains true peace of mind and a harmonious and happy life, not only spiritually but also physically and fully realizes how happy one is to be son or daughter of this great and holy nation, our Jewish people.
Hoping to hear good news from you, and
24 Teves, 5729 
One of the basic principles of the Chabad philosophy and way of life, is that the head and the heart (the intellect and emotions) should govern and inspire the daily life of the individual in complete mutual harmony, and in a way that the mind should rule the heart. Where this inner harmony between the intellect and emotions prevails, then all the varied activities of the person, in all details of the daily life, both the mundane and the sacred, the material and the spiritual, are carried out properly, without conflicts, without contradictions, and without vacillations.
There can be no doubt that the fearful confusion and insecurity besetting the young generation of today, in this country and elsewhere, frequently erupting in defiance and open revolt against the very elementary laws of human society, is the result of the inner split and disharmony between reason and emotions, often giving way to unrestrained misconduct. It is also a sad fact that these symptoms have affected some segments of our Jewish youth.
In these critical times there is especially a vital need to strengthen among our Jewish youth their spiritual equilibrium, and the only way to attain this is through Torah and Mitzvos, with unity and harmony between the intellect and emotions, and the mastery of the mind over the heart.
For us Jews, the said inner unity is more than the secret and foundation of a satisfactory personal life. This subject is treated in depth and breadth in the teachings of Chabad.
The said unity is the key to unity in the world at large, and is intimately correlated with the concept of G-d's Unity (monotheism), the realization of which in actual life is the special task of every Jew and the Jewish people as a whole. This is alluded to in the words, "A people One on earth," which the Alter Rebbe explains (Iggeres Hakodesh, 9): "The Jewish people which is one brings into reality the Oneness of G-d, to achieve oneness (in life) on earth."
Who was Rabbi Akiva?
Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, who lived from about 40 c.e. to 125 c.e., was a descendant of righteous converts. Unlearned until the age of 40, he was encouraged by his wife Rachel, to study Torah in the Academy at Yavneh. Eventually considered one of our greatest rabbis, he 22,000 students, mainly at his academy in Bnei Brak. He was an outstanding interpreter of Written Torah, and arranged the entire Oral Torah according to subjects, forming a basis for the Mishna. He was martyred by the Romans for teaching Torah in disregard of their ban.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 20th of Tevet, this coming Sunday, is the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam.
In his major work, the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all the 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work. The Rambam defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and the mitzvot to its complete state.
For many, this would seem a rather novel approach. Yet, the Talmud states that "the world was created solely for Moshiach." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to hasten his arrival.
The 24th of Tevet (Thursday, January 19 this year) is the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened a new path which allowed the teaching of the previously hidden aspects of the Torah - Pnimiyut HaTorah - to be comprehended through the intellect and thus reveal additional G-dliness within the world.
In Rabbi Shneur Zalman's magnum opus, Tanya, he writes: "The Messianic Era... is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created." This means that our spiritual service will reach its full completion only with the arrival of Moshiach. Thus, the fulfillment and culmination of the entire creation will take place when Moshiach is revealed.
The entire purpose, in fact, of the revelation of Chasidic philosophy was to hasten and prepare the world for the Messianic Era.
In the merit of these two great luminaries and in our own merit as well, may we be privileged to greet Moshiach NOW!
And he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the staff of G-d in his hand (Ex. 4:20)
While Moses certainly demonstrated to Pharaoh the proper honor due a king, he nonetheless "took the staff of G-d in his hand" in all his dealings with him - prideful in his Jewish heritage, imbued with an attitude of G-dly assurance, and without any feelings of inferiority.
And all the soul(s) that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy soul(s) (Ex. 1:5)
The Children of Israel are referred to in the collective singular, "soul," whereas Esau's descendents are described in the plural, "souls." The sphere of holiness is characterized by awe of G-d, self-nullification and unity. (Think of two royal ministers, who, despite their disagreements, become totally nullified and of one mind in the presence of the king.) The opposite of holiness, however, is characterized by disunity and plurality.
(Siddur, with Chasidic notes)
And these are the names of the children of Israel coming [to Egypt] (V'eileh shemot b'nei Yisrael habaim) (Ex. 1:1)
The final letters of these Hebrew words, rearranged slightly, spell out "Tehilim," Psalms. From this we learn that reciting Tehilim, sincerely and from the depths of the Jewish heart, is the surest way to overcome all difficulties and troubles, may G-d protect us.
And they made their lives bitter with hard labor (Ex. 1:14)
The Egyptians embittered the Jews' spiritual existence (the true meaning of the word "lives") by making it difficult for them to observe mitzvot, which was why it was later manifested in physical subjugation. Had the Jewish people resisted the Egyptians' spiritual pressure, they would never have become enslaved in the literal sense.
And behold, his hand was leprous, white as snow...and behold, it was turned again as his other flesh (Ex. 4:6,7)
Moses' leprosy was symbolic of exile; the healthy flesh, of redemption. (The underlying cause of both exile and leprous afflictions is a withdrawal of the light of holiness.) With this miracle, G-d was alluding to Moses that not only would the Jewish people's exile be transformed into redemption, but that ultimately, all "flesh" will come to bow down before the one true G-d, in a transformation that can be equally instantaneous.
In a village near Liozna lived a widow with her son and two daughters. The children helped their mother manage the family inn. By and by, the eldest daughter married a young man, Velvel, who was very learned in Torah, but also very conceited.
One of the frequent callers at the inn was the parish priest. He spent many hours in religious debate with Velvel. The young scholar always won, which only served to feed his haughtiness. Even when the priest brought along two of his colleagues to verbally spar with him, Velvel held his own.
After one of their debates, the priest mentioned that the bishop of Vitebsk wanted to meet the young scholar. Velvel was persuaded to go to Vitebsk.
The honor accorded Velvel in the Vitebsk was beyond his wildest dreams. He met with the bishop and out-argued him point by point. One of the senior clerics convinced Velvel to remain for a few days in Vitebsk and help other members of the clergy sharpen their debating skills. Velvel never dreamed that he could be shown so much honor. The innumerable compliments fed his ego even further.
Velvel returned to the inn, with no one the wiser of how he had spent the past few days. Some weeks later, a group of prominent Torah scholars stopped at the inn. They became involved in a learned discussion and the over-confident Velvel gave his opinions, though never once asked. An elderly scholar smiled at Velvel and said, "A young man should learn to listen to what his elders have to say, and to regard Torah scholars with respect."
Velvel took great offense at these words. He thought, "Who are these men who are not showing me due honor? I have even bettered the bishop in religious debate!"
Several weeks later, Velvel disappeared. His family received a letter from him saying that he was living in Vitebsk where honors were being heaped upon him by the bishop of the city. The bishop had assured him that he would become a great dignitary if he would join them.
The family was thrown into turmoil. They set out immediately to Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism) in Liozna. They burst into the synagogue and cried out, "Rebbe, help us! Velvel wants to apostatize!"
The Rebbe simply said, "I cannot help you. But I will tell you a story that took place while I was in Mezritch.
"In the winter of 1769, a young man was overcome with the desire to be baptized. He went to the local priest who began arranging everything. The young man's father ran to my Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch and cried: 'Rebbe, rescue my son from baptism!'
"The Maggid listened to the story that the broken-hearted father told and then, after a few minutes, began to expound on the verse, 'If a person should sin and commit a trespass against G-d'" And then, Reb Shneur Zalman repeated the discourse as he had heard it from the Maggid.
Then, Rabbi Shneur Zalman continued to recount the incident: "When the Maggid was finished, he told ten of his Chasidim to stay awake all night, reciting Psalms until dawn. I was one of the ten. At noon, the young man wandered into our synagogue. No one asked him what had happened. He stayed with us for a few days, spoke privately with the Rebbe, then went home." Reb Shneur Zalman completed the story and went back into his study.
The Rebbe's Chasidim immediately chose a quorum of ten men and spent the whole night awake, saying Psalms. The widow and her daughter returned home and soon after that a young man appeared in the synagogue. He sat down with the others, and with tears, recited Psalms. The Chasidim knew who the young man was, but no one breathed a word.
The young man spent the entire week in Liozna, and the following week, after speaking privately with the Rebbe, he returned home. A few weeks later, he and his family moved to another town. He remained close with Rabbi Shneur Zalman and became one of his worthy Chasidim.
When G-d called out to Moses from the burning bush, why did He say Moses' name twice - "Moses, Moses"? G-d hinted to Moses that he will teach Torah twice - once in his lifetime and once in the days of Moshiach.
(Shmos Rabba 2:6. Midrash Chachamim)