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Time. In many countries around the world, times are changing. That is to say, the time on the clock, at least. "Spring ahead, Fall back" we mutter to ourselves, in an attempt to remember whether we're "losing" or "gaining" an hour and which way to adjust our clocks to "standard time."
How long is a standard hour? Perhaps that depends on whether it's an hour that has stretched on endlessly or has passed by in the blink of an eye. Is it an hour that has been "blessed" and in which we have accomplished so much or is it an hour when everything that could have gone wrong went wrong and it was totally wasted.
When it comes to time, many of us think not only in terms of hours, minutes and seconds, but of "quality time" as well. And quality time is anything but standard, because it's usually time that we set aside to be with family, good friends, or in worthwhile and meaningful pursuits.
Is there such a thing as a "Jewish standard hour" or "Jewish quality time"?
In Talmudic times, a Jew whose performance of mitzvot (commandments) was typified by going above and beyond the letter of the law was referred to as "chasid." These (pre-modern) Chasidim used to spend tremendous amounts of time in prayer and only a few hours a day in Torah study. But, the amount of Torah knowledge they gained in those few hours of study was inordinately greater than what the average person would have gained in the same amount of time spent in intensive study. The reward for their intensive prayer schedule was that the time spent studying Torah became "quality time" and their studies were blessed.
The mitzva of Torah study is incumbent upon us at all times. In fact, according to the Talmud, if a person wastes even one minute that he could have spent studying, it's as if he belittled the entire Torah. Yet, the Talmud also states that someone who is involved in helping the community has fulfilled the commandment to study Torah by simply saying one verse from the Shema in the morning and in the evening. Quality time!
In the Mishna (Avot) Rabbi Yaakov says that one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than the entire time one will live in the World to Come.
What does this mean? On the simplest level, Rabbi Yaakov is telling us that quality time counts. Through spending even just one hour in teshuva - returning to and reconnecting with G-d - and the performance of good deeds, we will appreciate awesome revelations of G-dliness in the Messianic Era. In fact, all the G-dliness we will experience in the times of Moshiach can be acquired through making every second and minute of a Jewish hour count here and now.
How do we accomplish this? The Hebrew word for hour, "sha-ah," also means bending. By bending ourselves in this world - not remaining rigid or stuck in our ways - and setting aside an hour regularly for teshuva and good deeds, we are adjusting our clocks to the ultimate standard time - the Messianic Era, may it commence now!
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, relates the story of the akeida, the Binding of Isaac. G-d said to Abraham, "Please take your son...and offer him there for a burnt offering." Abraham was tested by G-d ten times. The akeida was the tenth and final test.
The Talmud explains that G-d's request - "Please take your son" - was an entreaty to express His wish that Abraham withstand the trial. "I have tried you many times, and each time you passed the test," G-d said. "Would that you pass this test as well, that people not say the first ones were without substance."
Why was it so important for Abraham to pass the final test, and how would his failure to do so have invalidated the success of the previous nine? The akeida was certainly the most difficult trial, but even had Abraham not withstood it, why would the previous ones have been considered to be in vain?
Another question: The first test was when Abraham was thrown into the fiery furnace after destroying his father's idols. Wasn't this test just as critical as the tenth one?
The answer is: Sometimes, when a Jew is willing to give up his life for the sake of G-d, it is hard to distinguish if he is doing so solely because G-d wants him to, or because he himself understands that an act of self-sacrifice is required.
For example, the argument could be made that because Abraham understood the necessity of spreading awareness of the one G-d throughout the world, he was willing to allow himself to be burned. In other words, self-sacrifice was a logical conclusion, arrived at by Abraham's own intellect.
The trial of the akeida, however, was entirely different. Withstanding the trial would not result in the public recognition of G-d's Name, as no one else was present except for Abraham and Isaac. On the contrary, G-d's request seemed to defy logic. Abraham wanted his son to continue spreading the belief in G-d after he was gone, yet here G-d was asking him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering! If Isaac were sacrificed, who would be left to continue his path?
Thus the akeida constituted a test of Abraham's willingness for self-sacrifice in a situation in which his own intellect led him to the opposite conclusion. His ability to withstand the tenth test thereby demonstrated that the first nine were not in vain, as it proved that he had acted out of love of G-d and not merely because his intellect compelled him to obey.
This contains a lesson for each of us, Abraham's descendants, in how to serve G-d. Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes: "It is good to recite the chapter of the akeida each day...in order to subjugate the [evil] inclination and serve G-d." The power to do so comes to us from Abraham, the first to show us how.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 20
The Traveling Rabbi (Binyamin Tanny, whose experiences are featured in L'Chaim 1180, 1190 and 1201) is now married and joined in his travels by his wife Rachel (Feltman) Tanny and more recently their baby Akiva. Below Rachel's posts about their stay in Nepal.
I loved Pokhara. It is a special place - peaceful, serene, beautiful. We had a cute but spartan room with a stunning view overlooking Phewa Lake. Nothing but a green field of grazing water buffalo to block our view. Surrounding the lake we could see Himalayan peaks rising up, the tallest among them tipped in white.
It was a perfect place to spend Shabbat. And indeed, we ended up spending several Shabbatot (Sabbaths) there. However, the first few that we spent there, the local Chabad House had not yet opened up. We had been counting on it for our Shabbat meals and companionship. That meant that, as with many other Shabbatot during our journeys, we were on our own.
The stunning surroundings in no way made preparing for Shabbat any easier. To my surprise, I discovered that most of Nepal was on electricity rationing. We would only have about seven hours of electricity on any given day, split between two sessions, one of which always seemed to fall in the middle of the night.
Preparing for Shabbat during travel can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but without electricity, we would be unable to boil the eggs and potatoes that were staple foods for us during our travels.
But that's not all - after sunset on Friday night, there would be no electricity, no light to read by. The Chabad House would have had a generator available, but not our guest-house. The guest-house's policy on this was that guests should use a candle or two, or a flashlight. But after lighting Shabbat candles, we would be unable to light any further candles. Once our Shabbat candles finished, we would be plunged into complete darkness.
I think most readers would find this a challenging situation to be in, week after week, during the entire month and a half that we spent in Nepal. And it's true, these situations did present challenges. But I don't think it is anything particularly extraordinary. After all, electricity is still a relatively recent invention.
Rabbi Ben and I took our small Shabbat meal (I did manage to boil eggs and potatoes, and even steam some peas, during the few short hours of electricity - careful planning!) and we sat on our porch. We watched as the springtime sun descended behind the lake, colors painting layers of rainbow behind the Himalayan peaks. The guest-house owner came by and placed a single candle in front of us without us saying a word to him. (Asking a non-Jew to do this on Shabbat could be very problematic according to Jewish law, so we couldn't ask him for it.) We enjoyed our meal and the incredible scenery. It was easy to connect to G-d in such surroundings.
When we returned to our room, my Shabbat candles were still burning. We sat and read by their flickering light, enjoying them fully. In our modern lives, we often fail to really appreciate and use the light cast by the Shabbat candles, as we truly are meant to. But in this small town in Nepal, we were able to use our Shabbat candles for the purpose they were originally intended - to bring shalom bayit - peace in the home.
Thus it was that seven months after we were married, we officially hosted our first Shabbat guest as a married couple! Most couples start building a home when they first get married. They can start inviting Shabbat guests as soon as the table and chairs move in. But for Ben and I, since we are always traveling, inviting Shabbat guests is more difficult. If we're in an area with lots of Jews, there's usually a Chabad House and we'll eat there. And if there's no Chabad House, it is very rare to find other Jews wandering around.
We both love hosting guests, but often it's just not possible for us. On the Friday of our first Shabbat in Pokhara, Ben was walking down the main street and he met a Jewish man, Tomer. It's normal to see lots of Israelis in Nepal, but in Pokhara, the Chabad House hadn't opened yet, so not many Israelis were about.
Ben invited him for Shabbat dinner, but he already had plans. When Ben came back to the guest-house and told me that perhaps Tomer would join us for Shabbat lunch, I was so excited that we might have a guest.
After we davened (prayed) Shabbat morning, Ben went out to look for Tomer while I made salads. We had the boiled eggs and steamed peas I had made the day before and I also made a delicious potato salad as well as enormous salads full of fresh vegetables.
We sat on the porch of our lovely guest-house and really enjoyed the meal. We had a perfect view of the lake and the Himalayas. It was an ideal setting where we could sit for hours and talk about our travels and discuss thoughts from the Torah portion. But the best part of hosting our first Shabbat guest on the go in Nepal was making a new friend!
The Shabbatot we spent in Pokhara are some of my most cherished memories. I remember the feeling of warmth the Shabbat candles brought in our relationship. I remember the sight of those glorious mountains and the lake that G-d Himself made for us to appreciate. I remember how a simple salad of potatoes, or eggs, or fresh vegetables, seasoned with nothing more than oil and a pinch of salt, could taste so wonderful, could have the flavor of Shabbat.
To me, this is what it truly means to keep Shabbat. It means to put our worries and cares aside. Not simply that we "not do any work" - but that we should not even think any work. Even if we are in a place where it is challenging to keep Shabbat, it is a time to reconnect, both with G-d and with one another.
Rabbi Ilan and Sarah Fuchs have opened a new Chabad House at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to accommodate the overflow crowd at the original Chabad House opened 11 years ago. Sarah was president of Chabad at Brandeis during her studies there and graduated in '05. Rabbi Mordechai and Nomi Leimdorfer are moving soon to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they will open a Chabad House serving James Madison University and the Virginia Shenandoah Valley. Rabbi Levi and Chayale Wilhelm have arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada to establish a new Chabad House in the Southwest part of Las Vegas. Rabbi Shmuel and Batya Chitrik moved to S. Petersburg, Russia to serve emissaries in the Moskovsky District.
26th of Teves, 5742 (1982)
Greeting and Blessing:
This is my first opportunity to acknowledge receipt of your letter of Dec. 15, 1981. In it, after kindly paying tribute to the work of the Lubavitch movement, you express your reservations about the "Tzivos HaShem" [lit. "G-d's Army] Campaign, on the ground that it in based "on the glorification of the military and an aggrandizement of arms, war, and battlefields."
A letter is hardly the proper medium to explain fully the reasons that impelled us to introduce the establishment of the Tzivos HaShem organization, the purpose of which is to bring young Jewish children closer to Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], as I am glad to note you fully recognize. Needless to say, it was done only after due deliberation, which I can only briefly outline in this letter.
To begin with, "Tzivos HaShem" - as you surely know - is not a "foreign" idea. It is first mentioned in the Torah in reference to "G-d's Hosts" who were liberated from Egyptian bondage. The term is clearly not used in the strict military sense. Rather it indicates that the Hosts who had been enslaved to Pharaoh to serve him, were now G-d's Hosts, free to serve G-d, and G-d alone.
Of course, the Torah does not glorify militarism, war, and the like. On the contrary, "Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." And, as our Sages declare, "the Torah was given to bring peace into the world," and "there to no greater Divine blessing than peace," and much more in this vein.
Parenthetically, with all the emphasis on pacifism, the Torah (from the root Hora'ah [guidance]) also provides guidance in situations where military action is necessary, and prescribes the laws of warfare, as you are, of course, aware. To be sure, Rabbi Akiva's fame rests on his spiritual contribution, but there was a time when he found it necessary to be Bar Kochba's "arms-bearer," as the Rambam notes in his Code (Hil[chos] Mlochim 11:2).
When the "Tzivos HaShem" was instituted recently, careful consideration was given to using a minimum of military trappings, and only such as would be consistent with the spirit of the Torah. For example, "spying missions," which you mention in your letter as one of your objections, was categorically excluded. Furthermore, the whole Campaign is limited to children of pre-Bar Mitzvah and pre-Bat Mitzvah age. The idea is that reaching that age they become full-fledged Jews, and by then they will have had the benefit of the experience, and will realize that it had served its purpose for them.
The question is: Since the term "Tzivos HaShem" would seem to some people to smack of "militarism," what were the overriding reasons that out weighed such reservations as you expressed in your letter? Could not the same results be achieved through other means or other methods?
This brings us to the core of the problem.
As an educator, you know that children need activation, but that is only one aspect of the problem. The most important aspect, in my opinion, in this day and age, is the lack of Kabolas Ol [accepting the yoke], not only of Malchus Shomayim [the kingdom of Heaven] but also general insubmission to authority, including the authority of parents at home and of teachers in school, and the authority of law and order in the street. There remains only the fear of punishment as a deterrent, but that fear has been reduced to a minimum because there has in recent years been what amounts to a breakdown of law enforcement, for reasons which need not be discussed here.
On the other hand, American children have been brought up on the spirit of independence and freedom, and on the glorification of personal prowess and smartness. It has cultivated a sense of cockiness and self-assurance to the extent that one who is bent on mischief or anti-social activity, feels that one can outsmart a cop on the beat, and even a judge on the bench; and, in any event, there is little to fear in the way of punishment.
continued in next issue
Eliezer was the trusted servant of Abraham, given to him by King Nimrod. Eliezer resembled Abraham physically, though they were not related, and he was in charge of Abraham's household and wealth. He was sent by Abraham to find a wife for Isaac from relatives in Charan. He arrived in a miraculously short amount of time. Also, when he prayed to G-d that he find a fitting wife for Isaac, Rebecca appeared even before he had finished praying. Many years later, Eliezer and his son Alinos helped Jacob prepare for possible battle against his Esau.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Monday, the 20th of Marcheshvan, is the birthday of the Rebbe Rashab, fifth in the Chabad dynasty. The following incident took place shortly after he became Rebbe in 1883:
A Jew once came to the Rebbe and begged him for a blessing. Faced with a difficult problem, he was troubled and distraught. But the Rebbe refused to help. "There is nothing I can do," the Rebbe said. "I cannot help you."
The man left the Rebbe's chamber and burst into tears. At that moment the Rebbe's brother, Reb Zalman Aaron, passed by, and asked him what was the matter. The Jew poured out his heart and told him what the Rebbe had said.
Reb Zalman Aaron immediately went and confronted his brother. "Is that how you treat someone who comes to you for help?" he asked him. "A Jew asks for a blessing, and you tell him you can do nothing? Why, even now that man is sitting outside your door, weeping in agony and distress."
At that the Rebbe Rashab put on his gartel and asked for the man to be led into his room a second time. The Rebbe gave him his blessing, and he was delivered from his terrible predicament.
It sometimes happens that a person may not yet be worthy of receiving G-d's blessings. When the Rebbe Rashab told the man that he couldn't help him, his words were so painful that his spirit was shattered. With a broken heart he called out to G-d, and was thus transformed into a suitable vessel. The Rebbe could then bless him, and his blessing was fulfilled.
Every Jew is good in his innermost core, wishing sincerely to fulfill G-d's command. However, if he stumbles and transgresses, he is no longer worthy. Pride and ego can then cover up his true self, causing him to overlook his shortcomings.
When a Jew is in pain his pride disappears, and his inner, essential goodness is allowed to resurface. In this way he becomes an appropriate vessel to contain all of G-d's abundant blessings.
Let a little water be fetched, I pray you, and wash your feet (Gen. 18:4)
At first glance it seems odd that Abraham, who personally provided every amenity for his guests, should ask them to fetch their own water to wash their feet. But as Rashi explains, in those days the Arabs who traveled the desert worshiped the dust. Abraham, whose mission was to teach people about G-d, did not want even a trace of idolatry tracked into his tent. Had Abraham brought the water (or performed any other action to nullify their idolatry), it would not have been considered a true nullification, as the concept of idolatry is already completely alien to the Jew. His Arab guests had to do it themselves, thereby sanctifying G-d's Name even more.
And when he saw them, he ran to meet them (Gen. 18:2)
"Receive every person with a cheerful countenance," declared Shammai, the great Torah Sage. Even if one bestows all the treasures in the world on another, if his face is angry, it is considered as if he gave him nothing. On the other hand, if a person greets his fellow in a friendly manner, even if he gives him nothing it is considered as if he gave him a great fortune.
And Abraham drew near (Gen. 18:3)
Rashi notes that Abraham approached G-d "to speak [with Him] in a harsh manner," to plead that He change His mind and not destroy Sodom. Abraham, the epitome of loving-kindness, saw fit to go against his natural inclination and "speak harshly" with G-d! We learn from this that when it comes to saving lives, either literally or in the spiritual sense, a Jew must pull out all the stops and do all in his power, even if it goes against his very nature.
Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Rashab, once was travelling to Petersburg by train. When he reached his destination he claimed all of his baggage except one valise which was nowhere to be found. His attendants searched the entire train station, but that suitcase which contained several important books was lost.
Several days later the Rebbe was visited by a young man named Reb Avrohom Eliyahu Guarary. The young man was newly married and had invested his considerable dowry in a business which had unfortunately failed. Now, he was left with only one thousand rubles and had come to seek the Rebbe's advice.
No sooner had he entered the room when the Rebbe said, "Ah, Reb Avrohom Eliyahu will bring me back my suitcase from the train station!" He handed the young man the claim and sent him off, unaware that the case was missing.
The train station was deserted and Reb Avrohom stopped to have a smoke. He noticed a man watching him and staring at his pack of cigarettes. "Do You smoke?" Reb Avrohom asked the man.
"Yes," he replied.
The young chasid offered the gentile a cigarette and they were sharing a smoke together when the man asked, "What are you doing here at such an hour?"
Reb Avrohom replied affably, "There is a rabbi by the name of Schneersohn visiting, and I am here to pick up his suitcase."
"That's a handy coincidence. You see, I'm the warehouse manager. Why don't you give me your baggage ticket and let me see if I can find your case."
The manager went into the large warehouse and instructed his workers to bring him the suitcase, but to his consternation, they couldn't find it. He ordered them to check each piece of baggage carefully. Sure enough, they found the valise lying behind a large crate. Reb Avrohom thanked the man profusely and returned to the Rebbe, valise in hand.
The Rebbe was very happy to receive his lost suitcase and said to the young man, "I am now in your debt. How can I help you?"
Reb Avrohom poured out his whole story of the ten thousand ruble dowry which he had lost in an unsuccessful business. Now he had only one thousand rubles and wanted to know how to make the most of it. The Rebbe advised him, "Go to the city of Koritz and there G-d will provide you with a livelihood. Just make sure that you bring along food for the trip."
Reb Avrohom returned to his wife and told her what the Rebbe had said. His wife baked and cooked all kinds of delicious foods for his journey, and they chatted excitedly about the success they faithfully anticipated.
Reb Avrohom arrived in Koritz on a hot, humid day. He decided to cool off by taking a swim in the Korchyck River. After the refreshing swim, he sat down to eat some of the delicious food his wife had packed. He noticed another Jew nearby and Reb Avrohom, being a friendly type, offered him some of his wife's food. They struck up a conversation and Avrohom told the stranger the story of his failed business and the blessing he had received from the Rebbe.
"I would like to help you," said the man. "Come back here tomorrow. I'm going to bring a friend with me. Perhaps between the two of us, we can figure out a way to help you out. But don't forget to bring along some of your wife's great cooking," the man added, smiling.
The next day the three men met and concluded a deal. "I have decided to sell you my entire shipment of cigarette papers for a thousand rubles," said the friend. "I hope you are successful and make a big profit from it." They shook hands, and went their separate ways. Reb Avrohom headed for the town of Kremenchug to claim his goods. That town was a center of cigarette manufacturing and there he would be able to sell the papers. He headed for the factory of a certain Reb Tzvi and made him a proposal: "I will sell you my entire stock for 10,000 rubles," he said.
"What! The paper is worth 2,000 at the very most."
"No," replied Reb Avrohom, "I want to recover my whole loss. I will take ten thousand or nothing." And it was impossible to move him.
Reb Tzvi listened to the young man's whole story and decided he would go to Koritz himself and try to make a similar purchase. But when he arrived he was disappointed to find that there was no cigarette paper to be had. In fact, there was a severe shortage in the whole city. The seller had given Reb Avrohom his last lot for the thousand rubles out of pity for the young man.
Reb Tzvi lost no time. He telegrammed Reb Avrohom, requesting him not to sell his supply of cigarette papers to anyone else. He then rushed back to Kremenchug and paid the asking price of 10,000 rubles.
Having recovered his loss, Reb Avrohom returned to the Rebbe for further instructions.
"But, Reb Avrohom Eliyahu," said the Rebbe this time, "my debt to you is already repaid!"
When Abraham was on his way to sacrifice Isaac, he told those who had accompanied him: "Stay here with the donkey...We will worship and then return to you." (Gen. 22:5) The words "Stay here - shvu lachem po" can also be translated as "you will return." Abraham saw that the Holy Temple would be built and then destroyed, after which we would be exiled. He also saw that Moshiach would bring us back and rebuild the Holy Temple. Abraham told them "you will return" to rebuild the Temple. "With the donkey" refers to Moshiach, who is described as "a humble person riding on a donkey."
(Bereishit Rabba 56:2 in Discover Moshiach)