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The story is told of a man who is on the verge of drowning in the middle of the ocean. He prays, "G-d, I put my trust in You, save me."
Sooner than later a speed boat comes along and the crew throws the man a life-preserver. "That's O.K.," he shouts to them, "G-d will save me."
Once again the man prays to G-d to save him. Within a few moments, a raft floats by. But the man ignores it until it is beyond reach.
For a third time the man prays, "Master of the World, I await Your deliverance." Just then he hears a helicopter overhead and watches as a line is let down for him. Emphatically, the man shakes his head "No." He is waiting for G-d to save him.
The man waits and waits and waits for G-d, Himself, to save him. But He doesn't, and so the man drowns.
You can well imagine that at the first opportunity the man asks G-d why He didn't save him. "Oh, but I tried to," G-d answers. "You just didn't let Me."
What a schlemiel, we say about the star of this fictitious story. It was so obvious that G-d was trying to save him. Did he really expect G-d, Himself, to save him? A real blockhead he is!
But wait a minute, how do we react when similar, though less dramatic things really do happen around us and in our own lives?
How many times do we attribute events to chance, coincidence, luck? How many miracles take place unnoticed? Do we see G-d's saving hand in the near-accident that could well have been disastrous? Do we acknowledge that it is because of G-d's blessings that our next-door-neighbor, who really isn't all that bright or motivated, landed an excellent job, even in today's economy? Do we admit that Divine Providence is a big factor in why we're doing what we're doing when we're doing it?
Each and every day G-d sends us - albeit through messengers - rafts, life-preservers, and ropes. Sometimes we use them without even acknowledging their source. Sometimes we don't use them, all the while griping and grumbling that G-d has forgotten about us or doesn't care about us or doesn't hear our requests.
Once in a long while something takes place which can only be defined as a miracle. When that happens, we uncomfortably thank G-d. Uncomfortably because we're so unused to acknowledging the Divine hand. It makes us uneasy.
But we needn't wait for a miracle, nor persistently expect G-d Himself to get us out of the fine mess we've gotten into. We can keep ourselves from drowning by opening our eyes, by re-focusing ourselves and fine-tuning our vision so that G-d doesn't have to tell us, "Oh, but I tried to save you, you just didn't let Me!"
In this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we read of Sara's passing, Abraham's purchase of the Cave of the Machpela in Hebron for her burial place, and Abraham's dispatching of his trusted servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. All of these events took place when Abraham was at a well-advanced age. In fact, the Torah tells us, "And Abraham was old (zakein), well endowed with days."
The Midrash comments: "Some people are old but not endowed with days; others are endowed with days but not old. In this instance we find a person possessing both qualities."
What does this tell us about our forefather Abraham's greatness?
A zakein, an elderly person, is defined as one who has acquired wisdom. By studying Torah he has learned a great deal. The zakein has achieved a high level of perfection of his soul.
"Endowed with days," however, refers to a person whose every day is perfect and whole. Not only does he perform the mitzvot (commandments) properly, but he does so every single day of his life. Through his actions, the days themselves are elevated. He illuminates his environment by the commandments he observes and he raises his surroundings to a higher state of perfection.
The terms "old" and "endowed with days" refer to two types of people, and specifically, to two types of tzadikim (righteous people). Some righteous people are concerned only with themselves and their own pursuit of excellence. By toiling greatly in the study of Torah they attain the level of zakein, but the people around them and the world at large are ignored. Time and effort are devoted solely to their own concerns.
Other tzadikim turn outward to disseminate their light upon their surroundings, devoting themselves to each and every person with whom they come in contact. These righteous people forget about themselves entirely, selflessly ignoring personal considerations for the sake of others.
Abraham, however, simultaneously embodied both of these qualities. "And Abraham was old, well endowed with days." While managing to achieve the highest level of personal perfection, Abraham sought to perfect his surroundings as well, thereby illuminating the entire world with holiness.
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3
Thank You Gabi and Rivky
by Mordechai Kaler
We are coming up to the yartzeit of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law - Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. It has taken me a long time to write the following story, but I feel that now is not only the right time, but the perfect time to do so.
Many have heard amazing stories of Gabi's and Rivky's work in Mumbai and the complete and utter self-sacrifice they lived with daily until their tragic murders. The story I am about to share though, is a very personal and miraculous story about how Gabi and Rivky continue to affect our lives and inspire us even after their passing.
My wife and I were married in the spring of 2005 and we were extremely excited to begin our life together. We eagerly anticipated, as most young Chasidic couples do, that fairly soon after our wedding we would be expecting a child.
It soon became apparent that our path to parenthood was not going to be as smooth as we had innocently imagined. After over a year of trying to conceive we were diagnosed with "unexplained infertility." To a young couple these words were incredibly scary. We were healthy and active people, how could this happen to us?
We went from doctor to doctor and were told the same exact thing after every visit. "We know there is a problem preventing you from conceiving, but we don't know why..."
A few years passed and the pain of being childless became deeper and stronger. We decided after going through emotionally, physically and financially draining unsuccessful fertility treatments, that we would take some time to recuperate before attempting anything else. A part of us, as difficult as it is to even write this, started to come to terms with the very brutal reality that we might never become parents.
Throughout this entire process there were always two people who knew exactly what and when to say something comforting to us. After each Jewish or Chasidic holiday, we would speak with Gabi or Rivky to hear what happened at their Chabad House in Mumbai. We always found it inspirational and uplifting to hear their stories.
Two weeks before Rosh Hashana in 2008, we had one of these uplifting conversations. Gabi recapped the events of the previous night's gathering in honor of the Chasidic holiday of "Chai Elul." After we told him we planned to take time off from the fertility treatments, he spent an hour convincing us to do the opposite. "Now is the time to dive in without limitations," he said.
Gabi insisted we call Bonei Olam, an unbelievable organization in New York whose mission is to assist every Jewish couple overcome infertility and realize the dream of parenthood. We agreed to call them and Gabi ended by wishing us a good year, and telling us that this coming year we will be blessed with a child!
As promised we made the phone call to Bonei Olam and they quickly took us under their wing. I will never forget the compassion with which they handled every aspect of our situation. Not just from a financial perspective, although they were beyond generous in that regard as well, but we received random calls from our case manager just to see how we were feeling on a given day! Day or night, they were there for us. Throughout the entire process, Gabi and Rivky were cheering us on and continuously encouraging us to never give up.
Bonei Olam set us up with an incredible doctor and we immediately began treatments again. The first couple of treatments were unsuccessful. Our doctor sensed our despondency and reassured us. He recommended we take a more invasive approach. After a phone call with Gabi and Rivky, we advised our doctor we were ready to proceed with the next steps.
Our treatment was scheduled for November 26, 2008 - a date we will never forget. As we were driving to the appointment, we received a call - something was happening in Mumbai and no one could get in touch with Gabi or Rivky. We debated whether to continue to the appointment or head to New York. After much deliberation we decided to go to the appointment.
After we left and headed home we were in constant communication with members of our family who kept us updated on the situation. Needless to say the stress on my wife, not knowing if her brother was alive, was unbearable. We were forced to travel to Israel on Thursday, and later heard the devastating news that they had been murdered literally minutes before Shabbat.
The turmoil and sadness that ensued is beyond description and I will not attempt to put it into words. In addition, when we returned home we were notified that the most recent treatment as well was unsuccessful. My wife and I couldn't find it in us to continue anymore. We spoke with our case manager from Bonei Olam and he made us realize that it was Gabi and Rivky who pushed us this far, we couldn't give up now on account of what happened to them. They would want us to continue! As unimaginably difficult as it was, we made our appointment for the next treatments. It took every ounce of faith and determination in my incredible wife to go to this appointment.
I can't help but cry as I write this... but I will never forget the phone call I received from our doctor's office a couple of weeks later. The nurse told me she had to pull herself together before calling to say, "Congratulations! Your test came back positive! Your wife is pregnant!" I was driving when she called and had to pull off to the side, trying very hard to control my emotions but I couldn't help myself from crying and smiling all at the same time. I immediately got in touch with my wife and we just couldn't believe the news!
Our daughter Rivky was born on Chai (18) Elul, exactly one year after Gabi blessed us. A year and a half ago, we were blessed again with our second daughter Malkah Raizel.
My hope in sharing this story is that if there is anyone who finds him/herself in a difficult situation, whatever it may be, never lose hope and never give up. Gabi and Rivky ingrained this life lesson into me and I am reminded each day of how powerful and rewarding it is when I see my beautiful children. Thank you, G-d for giving us the blessing of our children and for allowing us to be touched by these amazing people. Thank you Gabi and Rivky for everything.
Dnepropetrovsk Menorah Center
The largest Jewish Center in the world opened on October 21 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. The seven-tower, 20-story center and museum multiplex, is 538,000 square ft. The center will help fill the spiritual and physical needs of Dnepropetrovsk's 50,000 Jews and the broader Jewish community, while the Holocaust museum - the largest in Europe - will serve as an important educational medium, teaching visitors about the region's Jewish history.
Continued from the previous issue from a letter in which the Rebbe explains why he established the Jewish children's organization "Tzivos HaShem," 1982.
As with every health problem, physical, mental or spiritual, the cure lies not in treating the symptoms, but in attacking the cause, although the former may sometimes be necessary for relief in acute cases.
Since, as I mentioned, the root of the problem is the lack of Kabolas Ol [accepting the yoke (of Heaven)], I thought long and hard about finding a way of inducing an American boy to get used to the idea of subordination to a higher authority, despite all the influence to the contrary - in the school, in the street, and even at home, where parents - not wishing to be bothered by their children - have all too often abdicated their authority, and left it to others to deal with truancy, juvenile delinquency, etc.
I came to the conclusion that there was no other way than trying to effect a basic change in the boy's nature, through a system of discipline and obedience to rules which he can be induced to get accustomed to. Moreover, for this method to be effective, it would be necessary that it should be freely and readily accepted, without coercion.
The idea itself is, of course, not a novel one. It has already been emphasized by the Rambam [Maimonides] in the intro-duction to his Commentary on Mishnayos, where he points out that although ideally good things should be done for their own sake (Lishmoh), it is necessary to use inducements with young children until they are old enough to know better.
Thus, a "Pilot" Tzivos HaShem was instituted. It immediately proved a great success in getting the children to do good things in keeping with the motto V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho [love your neighbor as yourself], coupled with love and obedience to the "Commander-in-chief" of Tzivos HaShem, namely HaShem Eloikei Tzivo'os [G-d, the L-rd of Hosts].
The Tzivos HaShem Campaign has a further reward, though not widely applicable to Jewish children attending Hebrew schools. This, too, has already been alluded to by our Sages, in their customary succinct way, by saying that a person born with a violent nature should become a (blood-letting) physician, or a Shochet [ritual slaughterer], or a Mohel [ritual circumcisor], in order to give a positive outlet to their strong natural propensity (T. B. Shabbos 156a). Thus, children that might be inclined to aggressiveness, and hence easy candidates for street gangs, and the like, would have a positive outlet by diverting their energy in the right direction.
This brings us to the point that although the ideal of peace is so prominent in the Torah, as mentioned, the fact is that G-d designed and created the world in a way that leaves man subject to an almost constant inner strife, having to wage relentless battle with the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination]. Indeed, the Zohar points out that the Hebrew term for bread - lechem - is derived from the same root that denotes "war," symbolizing the concept of the continuous struggle between the base and sublime nature of man, whether he eats his bread as a glutton, in a way an animal eats its food, or on a higher level - to keep the body healthy in order to be able to do what is good and right in accordance with the Will of the Creator.
This is the only kind of "battle" the Tzivos HaShem are called upon to wage. By the same token, the only "secret weapon" they are encouraged to use is strict Shabbos observance and other Mitzvoth [commandments] which have been the secrets of Jewish strength throughout the ages.
Our experience with Tzivos HaShem - wherever the idea has been implemented, in the U.S.A. and Canada, Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel], and in many parts of the world - has completely convinced us of its most successful positive results, with no negative side-effects whatever. I can only hope that it would be adopted in other sectors, outside of Lubavitch, in growing numbers.
I trust that the above lines will not only put to rest all your apprehensions concerning Tzivos HaShem, but will also place you in the company of the many prominent educators and spiritual leaders who have enthusiastically acclaimed the Tzivos HaShem operation as uniquely successful in attaining its desirable goal.
With esteem and blessing,
Rivka (Rebecca) was the daughter of Betuel and sister of Laban. Rivka was born at the exact moment that Yitzchak was brought by Avraham as a sacrifice. She was renown as a person of sterling character traits from a young age. She married her cousin Yitzchak (Isaac) and they had twin sons, Esau and Yaakov (Jacob). Rivka, like the other matriarchs, was a prophetess. She is buried in Hebron in Maarat HaMachpela.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion we read about the mission on which Abraham sent his servant, Eliezer, to choose a wife for Isaac. The Rebbe draws a parallel between the mission (shlichut) of Eliezer and the mission that every Jew is charged with. Each one of us is an emissary of G-d, and our mission is to make this world a dwelling place for Him. We accomplish this by elevating the material of our world to a spiritual level through utilizing the world for the fulfillment of mitzvot. How do we accomplish this? By always having in mind that it is not our individual talents and strengths enabling us to succeed, but the power of the One who sent us.
At a convention of the Rebbe's emissaries, the Rebbe discussed the essence of an emissary. He quoted the teaching that one who is specifically sent on a particular mission by another person is considered as if he is the person who appointed him. The Rebbe pointed out two seemingly opposite characteristics that are required of such an emissary. Firstly, he must be aware of his talents and strong points and use them to his fullest potential. At the same time, the emissary must always be to totally devoted to whoever sent him, remembering that he is representing the one who sent him.
Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, used all of his talents and skills to find a wife for Isaac, but he never forgot that he was representing Abraham, and must fulfill his task according to Abraham's wishes.
The Rebbe's emissaries, the thousands of dedicated and enthusiastic individuals in over 2,500 Chabad Centers and institutions around the globe, have unique and personal talents which they use to fulfill their missions. But they always keep the Rebbe before them, garnering strength from his words and blessings.
In truth, each one of us is an emissary of G-d and each one of us possesses unique abilities that can be used to make this world a dwelling place for G-d. But we must always bear in mind that the strength we utilize is from G-d.
May we all find within ourselves these G-d-given powers that will imminently enable us to make this world a dwelling place for G-d with the coming of Moshiach.
And Sara lived...And Sara died. (Gen. 23:1-2)
Our Torah portion starts with the passing of Sara and her burial. Why then is the portion called "Chayei Sara," "the life of Sara," and not "the death of Sara?" "Chayei Sara," "the life of Sara," was focused on one goal and ideal: that her son, Isaac, should reach spiritual greatness. Our portion discusses the life of Isaac, who was the realization of Sara's spiritual dream. Though in this portion we read of her demise and burial, through Isaac her ideals were fulfilled - through him, she continued to live on. In actuality, "the life of Sara" was the righteous life of Isaac.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And Abraham was old, well on in days (Gen. 24:1)
In Hebrew, the phrase "well on in days" is "ba bayamim" - literally, "he had come with his days." Abraham's life was full, and he utilized every day to the fullest; he did not waste even one day. A hint as to how we can achieve this ourselves is found in the letters of the word "bayamim" - "ba" and "yamim." "Ba" is simply the Hebrew letter beit which has the numerical value of two; "yamim" means "days." Abraham always had the image of two days in his mind - the day of birth and the day of death. To utilize every day to its fullest we must keep in mind why we are born and the fact that we will ultimately be accountable for our deeds after we die.
Abraham married another woman whose name was Ketura. She bore him Zimran, Yakashan, Medan, Midian, Yishbak and Shuach. (Gen. 25:1)
Abraham married Ketura after Sara's passing and they had six sons, all of whom grew up to be idol worshippers. How could Abraham have had such wicked children? Before the Redemption it can happen that righteous people have some children who grow up to be righteous and others who grow up to be evil. But in the Days of Moshiach, all will be righteous as it says in Isaiah, "They shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of My planting and the work of My hands in which I take pride."
(Bereishit Rabba 61:4)
Once the Rav of Brisk, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik, was traveling and stopped at a Jewish-run inn in Benowitz. It was the Rav's custom to travel incognito, so when he knocked on the door of the inn he received no special treatment. The weather was frigid and when Rav Yosef Dov saw the lights of an inn he was relieved. Finally, he anticipated a warm fire and a bed on which to stretch out his very weary body.
He knocked expectantly on the heavy wooden door, but to his surprise, the Rav received an altogether different kind of greeting. When he opened the door, instead of welcoming the frozen man inside, the innkeeper brusquely said, "I am expecting a party of travelers to arrive any time now, and I have no room for you." Despite the bitter, biting cold, the innkeeper was about to slam the door in the face of the frozen Jew. Rav Yosef Dov began to plead with him. "Please, let me come in. I don't even need a bed. Just a warm spot on the floor will do. Please, don't turn me out on this terrible night. Why, it's possible I could even die in this cold." After a few moments of this kind of pleading the innkeeper couldn't refuse, and so, he admitted the Jew into his premises. He led the man through the brightly lit central room with its blazing fire and showed him to a cold, dark corner of the hallway. There the poor Jew was permitted to curl up on the floor and rest.
Once he was settled on that spot, the Rav Yosef Dov removed a candle from his pocket and began to study Torah by its light. It wasn't more than a few moments before the innkeeper came raging into the hall, crying, "You can't light a candle here! You are keeping the other guests awake! Put it out immediately!"
Without a word, Yosef Dov obliged and put out the candle. Then he continued learning by heart. He was quickly immersed in his thoughts and the cold, hard floor ceased to bother him. Many hours went by and very late into the night the sound of horses and carriages could be heard approaching. The rumble stopped outside the inn door and the innkeeper ran out to greet his guests.
In came a group of Chasidim accompanying their Rebbe, Reb Aharon of Koidenov. Removing their coats, the men sat around the blazing fire, rubbing their hands together and warming themselves. Reb Aharon prepared to pray the evening service. As he stepped across the room to wash his hands he noticed a huddled figure lying in the dark hall. He studied the form for a moment and then cried out, "Reb Yosef Ber, is that you? What is the Rav of Brisk doing lying on the floor?!"
When the innkeeper heard Reb Aharon's exclamation of horror, he began to tremble all over. His knees felt weak and he saw black before his eyes. Overcome with shame and remorse, he thought back to how he had treated this great man. After he recovered from his shock, he slowly approached the Rav. With downcast eyes, he said in a very small voice, "Rebbe, please forgive me. I didn't know it was you or I would never have treated you in such a disgraceful manner."
Reb Yosef Dov replied with a smile, "Of course, I forgive you. You needn't worry about that. However, I am making one stipulation." The innkeeper nodded his head vigorously. "Of course, Rebbe, anything you wish." He was ready to do any penance, give any sum to charity, anything to receive the forgiveness of the renowned Rav.
"I will forgive you on the condition that you travel to Brisk and spend two weeks as a guest in my home."
The innkeeper agreed at once. Within several weeks he arrived in Brisk and was warmly welcomed into the Rav's home. For two weeks the innkeeper observed the Rav's every movement. He watched the great care with which the Rav cared for each Jew who entered his study, burdened with questions and problems great and small. He took note of how gently the Rav treated the poor and despondent and he learned many a lesson about the art of hospitality.
When, after two weeks, the innkeeper returned to Benowitz, he had learned his lessons well. It wasn't long before his inn earned a well- deserved reputation. It became known far and wide as the place where every guest was treated with the greatest kindness and hospitality. The innkeeper never forgot the two weeks he spent as a guest of the Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik.
When Isaac took Rebecca as his wife, the Torah writes that he took her "ha'ohela - into the tent." "Ha'ohela" is written eight times in the Torah. These eight times allude to the eight places where the Divine Presence was destined to rest among the Jewish people. The seven places where the Divine Presence already rested were: the sanctuary in the desert; Gilgal; Shilo; Nov; Givon; the First Holy Temple; and the Second Holy Temple. The eighth place will be the Third Holy Temple which will be built in the Messianic Era.
(Baal HaTurim as quoted in Discover Moshiach)