Birthday Celebrations | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Who's Who | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Would you consider turning your yard into a petting zoo complete with a camel, a draft horse, a bull, ponies, two llamas, a yak, a goat, a chicken, a turtle and a boa constrictor?
One grandmother in the mid-West did, for the joint first birthday cele-bration of her two granddaughters. The $1,200 price tag included entertainment, gifts and decorations.
Or maybe your child would prefer a catered birthday party with a clown, pony rides, a horse and a fountain spewing applejuice?
These are just two examples of birthday parties that, as one psychologist notes, "set up lifelong expectations that might be unrealistic. It is important during birthdays to help a child avoid valuing materialism over family and friends."
In a drive to reinstate good, old-fashioned values and, at the same time, keep expenditures down, many parents are opting to get off the birthday bandwagon while they still can.
Two decades ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe started an innovative campaign to make birthdays meaningful for both children and adults.
The Rebbe encouraged people to celebrate their birthdays in the traditional Jewish manner.
Jewish teachings explain that a birthday is a time when mazalo gover - the particular spiritual source of a person's soul shines most powerfully. The Divine energy that was present at the time of your birth is once more present and dynamic on the anniversary of your birth each year.
Therefore, your birthday is a perfect time to enhance the quality of your life in the year to come. Things you can do on your birthday to get the most out of your soul-power. These include spending time in self-evaluation, making a positive resolution for the coming year, giving charity, studying Torah, and organizing a birthday party with friends and family. At the gathering make sure to share with friends some of what you learned on your birthday.
After hearing about the Rebbe's suggestions for birthdays, one public school teacher was so taken with this meaningful way to celebrate that she incorporated some of these recommendations into her students' classroom birthday parties. She asked each child to make a positive resolution and to share with the other students something meaningful and valuable they had recently learned.
This coming Wednesday (September 5) is the 18th of the month of Elul, the birthdays of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov - founder of Chasidism in general, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi - founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic philosophy.
On this day, their spiritual sources shine powerfully. We, today, can key into the extra measure and quality of Divine energy that is present on the 18th of Elul.
Consider taking advantage of that energy this year by increasing in Torah study and mitzvot.
To find out when your birthday falls on the Jewish calendar, visit the Hebrew/English calendar at lchaimweekly.org or call 718-467-7800 (the "Tzivos Hashem Superphone").
Celebrate your birthday in a traditional Jewish manner, concentrating instead on family, friends and spiritual growth.
In the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei we learn: "When you build a new home, you must place a guard-rail around your roof." The purpose of the guard-rail, as the Torah itself goes on to say, is to protect people from falling off an un-enclosed roof.
In a spiritual context, the meaning of this commandment is as follows:
At times, man's body is referred to as his "home." In terms of man's spiritual service, this alludes to the general service of birurim, wherein man seeks to purify and elevate his physical body and his portion in the physical world.
The service of purifying and elevating one's physical body is denoted as a "new home," for prior to the soul's descent into this world it has no conception of the physical world and the spiritual service which it entails.
Furthermore, the service of purifying and uplifting this physical world and transforming it into spirituality is truly something novel and new. When a Jew serves G-d in this manner the world itself becomes a home and an abode for G-d.
Understandably, building such important new edifices has a tremendous impact upon their builder, the person himself. He, too, is refined and uplifted in a "new" and infinitely greater manner - to a point which is much higher even than the lofty state of existence the soul enjoyed prior to its descent within a body.
Through self-nullification the person creates a vessel which allows him to serve as a receptacle to this new level. For the only way one can attain a degree of infinite elevation is to totally nullify oneself before G-d, thereby freeing oneself from the limitations of one's previous degree and level.
This, then, is the inner meaning of a guard-rail. The protective and preventative measures that a person undertakes in the course of his spiritual service are an expression of his self-abnegation and acceptance of the heavenly Yoke. Thus, they form a "guard-rail" which ensures his spiritual ascent, and enables him to be a fit vessel - the "new home."
There is a practical lesson in this for us all: A person should not shut himself off from the rest of the world; he must build a "home," a dwelling place, for G-d in this nethermost world. For, it is only through the descent within this world that the ultimate and truly new ascent is accomplished both Above as well as below.
On the other hand, one must know that in order to transform the physical into a vessel for G-dliness the person must make a guard-rail - he must remain apart from the physical world's grossness and corporeality. While it is true that he must busy himself with physical things, nevertheless, in and of themselves, they should remain insignificant to him; he knows and feels that the only reason he occupies himself with corporeality is in order to fulfill the Divine intent of transforming this world into a new home for G-d.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg in From the Wellsprings of Chasidus.
Lots of Happy Campers
The Lubavitch network of day and overnight summer camps was established in 1956 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Today, the largest camp network in the world spans 40 countries. In the former Soviet Union alone there are 40 camps attended by nearly 9,000 children. "Friendship Circle" camps, for special needs children, are often run in tandem with the local Chabad-Lubavitch camp or are sometimes a special division in the camp. We present you with a small sampling of some of the Chabad-Lubavitch affiliate summer camps world-wide.
For a one year subscription send $38, payable to LYO ($42 Canada, $52 elsewhere) to L'CHAIM, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213
L'CHAIM ON THE INTERNET
Current issues and archives: www.lchaimweekly.org
LEARN ABOUT MOSHIACH
Visit www.moshiach.com or call (718) 953-6100
Continued from last week, from freely translated letter dated -
In the days of Selichoth, 5717 (1957)
An objective, unprejudiced survey of the long history of our people will at once bring to light the fact that it was not material wealth, nor physical strength, that helped us to survive. Even during the most prosperous times under the united monarchy of King Solomon, the Jewish people and state were materially insignificant by comparison with such contemporary world empires as Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. That it was not statehood or homeland - is clear from the fact that most of the time, by far, our people possessed no independent state and has lived in the diaspora. That it was not the language, is likewise clear from the fact that even in Biblical times Aramaic began to supplant the Holy Tongue as the spoken language; parts of the Scripture and almost all of our Babylonian Talmud, the Zohar, etc., are written in that language. In the days of Saadia and Maimonides, Arabic was the spoken language of most Jews, while, later, Yiddish and other languages. Nor was it any common secular culture that preserved our people, since that changed radically from one year to another.
The one and only common factor which has been present with Jews throughout the ages, in all lands, and under all circumstances, is the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], which Jews have observed tenaciously in their daily life.
To be sure, there arose occasionally dissident groups that attempted to break away from true Judaism, such as the idolatry movements during the first Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple], the Hellenists during the second, Alexandrian assimilationists, Karaites, etc., but they have disappeared. Considered without prejudice, the Torah and Mitzvoth must be recognized as the essential thing and essential function of our people, whether for the individual Jew, or in relation of the Jewish people to humanity as a whole.
Hence the logical conclusion: The policy of imitating the other nations, far from helping preserve the Jewish people, rather endangers its very existence, and instead of gaining their favor will only intensify their antagonism. In like manner, those Jews who court the favor of the non-religious groups by concession and compromise in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, not only undermine their own existence and that of our people as a whole - for the Torah and Mitzvoth are our very life, but they defeat even their immediate aim, for such a policy can evoke only derision and contempt; and justifiably so, for a minor concession today leads to a major one tomorrow, and an evasion of duty towards G-d leads to an evasion of duty towards man, and who is to say where this downsliding is to stop?
At this time, standing as we are on the threshold of the New Year, a time propitious for earnest introspection and stock-taking, I earnestly hope that my brethren everywhere, both as individuals and as groups (and the larger the group, the greater its potentialities and responsibilities), will recognize the Reality and Truth:
The essential factor of our existence and survival is our adherence to the Torah and the practice of its precepts in our every-day life. Let no one delude himself by taking the easier way out, nor be bribed by any temporary advantages and illusory gains.
The secret of our existence is in our being "a people that dwell alone" (Num. 23:9), every one of us, man or woman, believing in the One G-d, leading a life according to the one Torah, which is eternal and unchangeable. Our 'otherness' and independence of thought and conduct are not our weakness but our strength. Only in this way can we fulfill our function imposed on us by the Creator, to be unto G-d a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," thereby being also a "segulah" for all humanity.
With prayerful wishes for a Kesivo vachasimo toivo, for a good and pleasant year, 'good' as defined by our Torah, which is truly good, both materially and spiritually.
Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, known as the Maharam (1215-1293), was the greatest authority in Jewish law of his time. Born in Worms, Germany, to a distinguished rabbinical family, he headed a yeshiva that produced Jewish leaders for all the surrounding lands. A spiritual giant, he was widely consulted on an enormous range of questions whose responsa have formed the basis of Ashkenazic practice to our day. While at the head of a large group of Jews attempting to flee German persecution by going to Israel, he was recognized by an informer. He was imprisoned and held for a huge ransom. He refused to allow the exorbitant sum to be paid, for fear that the practice of imprisoning rabbis would be repeated. He died in prison.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 18th of Elul (Wednesday, September 5 this year) is the birthday of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the general Chasidic movement. It is also the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the foremost disciples of the Baal Shem Tov's successor and the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic philosophy.
One of the main teachings of the Baal Shem Tov was to always remember G-d and to mention His name constantly. The obligation to remember G-d constantly and thank Him begins as soon as a Jew wakes up in the morning. Before he does anything else, he must say "Modeh Ani - I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King, for having mercifully returned my soul to me. Your faithfulness is great."
The lesson of Modeh Ani, that everything we have comes from G-d and we must constantly thank Him, is connected to another important teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: G-d did not merely create the world once, thousands of years ago. He constantly recreates everything anew, every single moment, and gives it new life.
The purpose of this "continual creation" is to allow us to appreciate G-d's kindness. G-d "takes the trouble" so to speak, to constantly recreate each one of us. When a person realizes that G-d is giving him life and everything he has, every moment, he will want to constantly thank Him.
The above teachings have a special connection not only to the Baal Shem Tov but to his birthday on the 18th day of Elul as well. For the Hebrew word "chai-life" equals 18. Thus, the 18th of Elul, Chai Elul, helps us add "life" and enthusiasm to our appreciation of and feelings of thanks for our Creator.
May we merit this very Chai Elul to experience true and eternal life as G-d intended it to be with the complete revelation of Moshiach and the commencement of the Redemption.
When you go forth to war against your enemies...and have taken them captive (Deut. 21:10)
In the spiritual "war" against the Evil Inclination, it isn't enough to merely subdue it; it must also be "taken captive" and utilized in our Divine service. There are many lessons to be derived from the Evil Inclination, among them alacrity and devotion. In the same way the Evil Inclination is completely dedicated to fulfilling its mission to cause us to sin, so too should we show the same commitment and enthusiasm in serving G-d.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
And the firstborn son is hers who was hated (Deut. 21:15)
The "firstborn son" is an allusion to Moshiach and his ultimate sovereignty in the Messianic era, as it states in Psalms, "I have found David My servant...also I will make him my firstborn," while "hers who was hated" refers to Leah, the mother of Judah, from whom Moshiach is descended: "When G-d saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb."
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated as the firstborn, by giving him a double portion (Deut. 21:17)
The "son of the beloved" is symbolic of the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments, which G-d gave to Moses before the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf. The "son of the hated" refers to the second set of Tablets, which were given after the Jews repented and became baalei teshuva. The first set of Tablets contained only the Ten Commandments, but the second set contained a "double portion" - not only the Ten Commandments, but all of the minutiae of halacha (Jewish law), Midrash and Aggada.
You shall not watch your brother's ox or his sheep go astray... you shall surely help him to lift them up again (Deut. 22:1-4)
When a person helps his neighbor and returns something the other has lost (either physical or spiritual) the benefit is mutual, as our Sages stated: "The advantage extended to the benefactor by the poor man is greater than the advantage extended to the poor man by the benefactor.
When the tailor died at a ripe old age, his passing didn't attract any special attention. Yet his funeral was most unusual for an ordinary tailor, for the Chief Rabbi of Lemberg himself led the funeral procession all the way to the cemetery. And of course, as the Chief Rabbi led the procession all the Jews of the town joined in giving the final honors to the deceased. The result was a funeral the likes of which is normally reserved for great rabbis or extremely righteous people.
The Jews of Lemberg had no doubt that the tailor had been a person of extraordinary merit, and they waited anxiously to hear what a wonderful eulogy the Chief Rabbi would give at the funeral.They were not disappointed when the rabbi told them the following tale:
Many years before, the rabbi had spent Shabbat at a village inn. The innkeeper related a story about a Jewish jester who lived in the mansion of the local poretz, the landowner of all the surrounding area. This jester had once been a simple, but G-d-fearing Jew, who by profession was a tailor. On a number of occasions he had done work for the poretz, and as he was an entertaining man with a beautiful singing voice, and very funny, the poretz and his family became very fond of his company. They finally asked him to join their household in the capacity of a jester, which was common in those days. He accepted, and slowly began to neglect his Jewish observance, until he no longer conducted himself as a Jew at all. The innkeeper felt very sorry for this Jew, and both he and the rabbi expressed their deep wishes for his return to the fold.
That Friday afternoon, just before Shabbat a man came galloping up to the inn and requested to spend the Shabbat there. To their surprise the horseman was none other than the Jewish jester, who explained that he had come in order to gather material for his jokes and spoofs.
The innkeeper was afraid to refuse, and so agreed to have the jester as a guest. At the Shabbat table the rabbi spoke about the Torah portion and described how both Terach, Abraham's idol-worshipping father, and Ishmael, Abraham's unruly son, repented and were forgiven by G-d.
"Words that come from the heart penetrate the heart," is the saying, and the words of the rabbi affected the Jewish jester, who became more and more thoughtful as Shabbat progressed. By Saturday night the jester so deeply regretted his life, that he approached the rabbi, and asked how he could do penance. The rabbi told him to leave his position with the poretz and withdraw for a time into a life of prayer, meditation and fasting. He should maintain this regimen until such time when he would receive a sign from heaven that his repentance was accepted.
The jester accepted this advice wholeheartedly. He went to Lemberg where he entered a large synagogue and made an arrangement with the caretaker. According to their deal he would be locked in a small room where he would spend the entire day in prayer. At night before locking up, the caretaker would release him so that he might eat a little and stretch out for the night on a bench. Only on Friday night in honor of the Shabbat would he leave the synagogue to spend the day more comfortably.
This routine continued for many weeks until one Friday night the caretaker forgot to release him. The heartbroken tailor was now sure that G-d had forsaken him, and he wept bitterly. Hungry and tired, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamt. In the dream an old man appeared to him, and told him, "I am Elijah the Prophet, and I came to tell you that your teshuva has been accepted. Fast no longer. Every night I will come and teach you Torah, Torah such as only the righteous merit to learn."
The tailor opened a small shop and made a modest living. Late one night the Chief Rabbi passed his home and saw a bright light coming from the window. But when he entered, he saw only the tailor working by the light of a small candle. This happened two more times, and each time the rabbi found only a small candle illuminating the tailor's room.
The third time the rabbi pressed the tailor for an explanation, and was told all that had transpired since they had met at the village inn. The tailor also related that the prophet had told him that no inhabitant of the village would die as long as he lived.
The following day the rabbi instructed the local burial society to inform him every time there was a death in the city. True to the prophesy, each time there was a death, the deceased was not a resident, but someone who happened to be passing through. The rabbi concluded his strange tale, admonishing the townspeople that the power of repentance is unlimited, and no matter what, G-d is always waiting for His children to return.
Adapted from the Storyteller, by Nissen Mindel
In these times, when the approaching footsteps of Moshiach are close upon us, the principal service of G-d is the service of charity. As our Sages, of blessed memory, said: "Israel will be redeemed only through charity."...there is no way of truly cleaving unto it [G-d's Divine Presence] and transforming the darkness of the world into its light, except through a corresponding category of action, and not through intellect and speech alone, as in Torah study, namely, the act of charity.
(Iggeret HaKodesh, end of Epistle 9)