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In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, we present this article penned by Rabbi Simon Jacobson as its furious winds were thrashing New York and surrounding areas.
While caution is in order for protection from any potential damage at the hands of a Hurricane, let us not forget that everything carries deeper messages.
Winds in general and especially strong winds are powerful reminders of forces beyond our control. And like any formidable force, they can either wreak havoc or bring us opportunities.
When was the first powerful wind? The second verse in the Torah reads: "The Divine wind hovered over the face of the water." The Midrash says that the Divine wind (or spirit), "ruach" in Hebrew, refers to the spirit of Moshiach.
The second time ruach is used in the Torah is equally fascinating: After Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, "They heard G-d's voice moving about in the garden with the wind of the day. The man and his wife hid themselves from G-d among the trees of the garden. G-d called to the man, and He said, 'Where are you?'"
In the "wind of the day," the Divine voice called out: "Where are you?" Where is your soul - your windy spirit?
This is similar to the story of Jonah: "G-d cast a mighty wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest, and the ship threatened to break up. The sailors were frightened, and each one cried out to his god... Jonah went down to the ship's hold, lay down, and fell asleep.
"The captain approached him and said to him, 'Why do you sleep? Get up, call out to your G-d, perhaps G-d will think about us, and we will not perish'."
The storm subsided only after Jonah declared that the tempest came because he was fleeing his Divine calling.
Jonah's immortal words ring true today as they did then - and as they did for Adam and Eve who were trying to hide from their Divine calling as well: "For I know that, because of me, this mighty tempest is upon you."
To be clear, we don't blame natural disasters on anyone; yet we are sensitive to events around us - especially those disrupting millions of lives - and we try to derive personal lessons in our lives.
I learned one such powerful lesson from a colleague in New York, who teaches a weekly Monday night Torah class. The class was during the height of the storm. Everyone assumed the class was cancelled but just to make sure a few regulars texted my friend.
My colleague texted back: "If Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Stalin, and Hitler didn't stop us from enduring as Jews, surely Sandy won't stop us! The class is on!"
As you can imagine, everyone attended the class. (For the record, they all lived nearby and did not place themselves at risk to join the class). As the winds roared outdoors, they learned Torah like they never learned before...
With one short text my friend taught me what I believe is a priceless lesson for us all: When it comes to our eternal values nothing can stop us.
And the credit goes to Hurricane Sandy. Were it not for her raging winds, my friend and those who attended the class would not have discovered and appreciated the depth of their inner winds (spirits) and commitment.
What lessons will we learn from Sandy? Are they howling out to us with the eternal question asked to Adam and to every human being: "Where are you?"
Or are they conveying Jonah's enduring words: "For I know that, because of me, this mighty tempest is upon you." Are they waking us up, crying out to us, as the captain did to Jonah: Why do you sleep?
Are they a harbinger of the wind and spirit of a global revolution in spiritual consciousness (i.e. Moshiach)? And will we absorb the lessons and create a spiritual storm of our own, that will bring fresh winds of growth in our own lives?
Will we then join together and sweep across the universe with a new wind of divine awareness, that will finally usher in the "wind (spirit) of Moshiach" - a world filled with divine wisdom as the waters cover the earth?
In this week's Torah portion, Toldot, we read of our Matriarch Rebecca's barrenness; the subsequent birth of her and Isaac's twin sons, Esau and Jacob; the twins' growth into adulthood; and the blessing of the firstborn which Isaac bestows upon Jacob.
Isaac became blind in his old age, as it states in this week's portion: "And it came to pass, when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see." Isaac remained sightless for many years, unable to even leave his home because of his infirmity. One explanation offered by Rashi (the foremost Torah commentator) for Isaac's blindness is that he lost his sight "so that Jacob could receive the blessings."
Isaac did not know that his son Esau was an evil person; thus when he grew old he wanted to bless him. G-d, however, knew that Esau was unworthy and that the blessings should go to Jacob. What did He do? He caused Isaac to become blind, allowing Jacob to come to him in stealth and receive the blessings that were intended for Esau. Had Isaac been sighted he would have been able to distinguish between his sons, and Esau would have ended up the recipient of his blessings.
A question is raised: Why was it necessary for Isaac to suffer for so many years just to ensure that Jacob received the blessings? Couldn't G-d have arranged for Jacob to receive the blessings in another manner? Indeed, Isaac knew that Esau was not as virtuous as his brother; he realized that "the name of heaven" was not usually on Esau's lips. Surely G-d could have simply told him that Esau was an evil person; Jacob could then have received the blessings without Isaac's becoming blind. Why didn't G-d simply reveal the truth to Isaac?
The answer has to do with G-d's reluctance to speak lashon hara (slander), even against as evil an individual as Esau. Despite the fact that Esau was evil, G-d refrained from saying so outright. The Torah thus emphasizes the degree to which we must avoid committing this transgression.
If G-d could restrain Himself from speaking lashon hara against Esau, how much more so must we be careful to avoid speaking lashon hara about any Jew! For every Jew, in his heart of hearts, is good.
By emulating G-d's ways and being careful in what we say, we fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of safeguarding our tongue.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 15
A Barn and a Dream
by Rabbi Raphael Jaworowski
According to his own description, Mr. Abe G. is not a very spiritual person. Although he was raised in an Orthodox home, as the years passed he steadily moved away from religious observance.
As an adult, Abe immerses himself in business and science, does not trust emotions, and meets any suggestion of the "supernatural" with the utmost skepticism. While he and his wife identify as Jews and attend family functions, they do not allocate any regular time, effort or funds to Jewish study or practice.
Naturally then, when Abe's family purchased a new (second) home in the countryside, they did not entertain any thoughts of affixing mezuzot to the door posts. But the mystifying events that unfolded less than a month ago gave Abe and his wife a new perspective on religion in general and on the mitzva (commandment) of mezuza in particular.
As Abe relates, one of the items on his "to-do" list was to spray insecticide on a bee-hive that was nestled up high in the eaves of the new home's barn. Unfortunately, this task required Abe to climb onto the rotting wooden boards of the barn's unsafe second-story deck. Despite planning and executing his movements with great caution, Abe's first step out of the barn's second floor on to the deck was met with the sound of horrible groaning, creaking, and shrieking. With his entire weight resting on the ailing structure, Abe was horrified to see the deck's rotten wood and tortured metal inexorably twisting and tearing further and further away from the barn's support wall.
"This is it," Abe thought. In another moment the deck, with him on it, would crash to the ground, resulting in untold pain, injury, or even death, G-d forbid. But as the entire deck disengaged completely from the wall and began to plummet towards the ground below, its precipitous plunge was abruptly and inexplicably interrupted.
Instinctively, Abe launched himself backwards, and somehow managed to scramble safely (if rather ungracefully) inside the barn's second floor doorway. After counting his limbs and collecting his wits, Abe safely exited the barn. Looking 15 feet up towards the sky, he was astounded to see that the source of his highly improbable salvation was an open chain-link gate that had gotten in the way of the deck's fall. The incredible spectacle of the gate's flimsy metal hinges and top bar propping up the imposing weight of a huge wooden deck (measuring 50 x 20 feet!) was simply astonishing.
But Abe's sense of wonderment was compounded even further as he realized how unusual it was for the gate to be in its current open position at all, as the section of land behind the gate was hardly ever used. But as marvelous as it was, Abe's story was not at all complete.
After suffering a very near-miss, Abe and his wife were pleased to be able to return to their old home that evening, sad about losing a deck but extremely thankful to remain intact in life and limb. They tried to have as normal an evening as possible, walking the dogs, eating dinner, and preparing for work the next day. Now that the events of the day were behind them, life would go on as normal - or so they thought.
That night however, Abe had a very vivid and memorable dream, in which he envisioned himself hanging mezuzot in his home. The dream was completely unexpected, and impacted him greatly. "I can't explain it," Abe says. "Of course, I remember mezuzot from my childhood. And I still see them on occasion when visiting my mother's home or attending the synagogue for a wedding or bar-mitzva. But I had not recently read, heard, or spoken about mezuzot. Prior to this dream I cannot even recall the last conscious thought I gave to the topic of mezuzot or their somewhat mysterious reputation for protecting a home and its occupants. Yet, after all this time, and following a near-catastrophic experience with our new home, that very evening I dreamed of mezuzot."
By nature, Abe is a skeptic, and certainly doesn't believe in dream interpretation. In this case however, no interpretation was needed. There he was, hanging mezuzot in his home; plain as day, albeit while sleeping at night. Following his brush with disaster and subsequent dream, Abe decided that the time had come to affix mezuzot to his homes. But he knew that if he was going to take the plunge for mezuzot, he wanted them to be kosher.
After searching the internet he discovered the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign and called Rabbi Aron Wolf, the organization's founder and director. Although the rabbi promised to bring Abe enough mezuzot for his two homes the very next day, Abe felt that his newfound spiritual awakening was pushing him to do something Jewish even more immediately. He right away searched for and put on his tefilin, which had previously lain dormant in a closet for two decades.
While he has chosen to share his story with the public, Abe does not claim to have made any conclusive judgments. "I have no explanation for what happened," he says. "I have no ulterior motives, and I have no desire to convert you to any belief. And although I assure you that I relay my story without exaggeration, frankly I sometimes find it hard to believe myself."
Nevertheless, Abe's new inspiration has driven him to take further steps in his relationship with Judaism. Nowadays, he keeps his tefilin out on top of his desk, and remembers to put them on periodically. And when he goes out of town, he takes along a special "religious bag" containing a kipa and tefilin, a prayer book and a Tanach (Bible).
Reprinted from the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign newsletter.
Concerning the Slice of Life article of L'Chaim #1243, it should be clear that the Chabad movement welcomes every Jew regardless of affiliation or level of observance. While it does not require full observance as a prerequisite to participating in its programs, Chabad inspires, teaches and works with each individual to reach a full level of commitment to observe all of G-d's commandments and the study of Torah "For they are our life and the length of our days."
Rabbi Yaakov and Chaya Wilansky will be moving soon to Roslyn Heights, New York where they will be directing the Friendship Circle and Teen Programming at Chabad of Roslyn.
11 MarCheshvan, 5722 
... in connection with your writing that your children had been attending a Hebrew Day School, but that you took them out from there and have engaged a private teacher instead. I need hardly point out to you that Jewish education is not confined to the acquisition of a certain level of knowledge and information about Jewish life, but rather that the child should be brought up within such a life and within an atmosphere which is permeated with this kind of life. This is something that a private teacher cannot replace by teaching just a number of hours a week.
Besides, when the Hebrew lesson comes after the boy has spent most of the day in public school, where he is given tests and homework, the Hebrew lesson cannot have the same importance in the mind of the boy as the public school, not to mention other factors such as the effect of classroom, discipline, community with other children, etc., etc. All this relegates the Hebrew lesson to a third or fourth place in importance, so that it often comes to be regarded altogether as an unnecessary burden.
12 MarCheshvan, 5722 
... I believe that during our conversation we touched upon the subject that, as the Torah has always been called Toras Chaim, the Law of Life, and has always been both the source of our life and existence as well as the guide in our daily life, it is infinitely more so in the present day and age. The danger to Jewish life and existence in the free countries, especially in these United States, is not the danger of physical extermination, G-d forbid, from another Hitler or Eichman, but there is, nevertheless, a danger which is no less destructive, the danger of assimilation.
Precisely because there is no external antagonism and discrimination against the Jews, especially on the middle and lower class level (although in the upper classes, the tendency towards assimilation is checked by prejudice), the danger of mass assimilation is a very real one.
In addition, such factors as compulsory education and social and economic pressures of conformity, etc., coupled with the widespread ignorance of Jewish values, greatly increase the danger of assimilation from one generation to the next. If allowed to continue unchecked, who knows to what it might lead.
It is, therefore, the duty of every conscious and conscientious Jew to do everything possible to stem the tide of assimilation, and it is truly a matter of saving a life.
It is self-evident that such an effort should not be limited to the adult and older generation, but especially in regard to the younger generation, and the very young in particular. And needless to say, a person on whom Divine Providence has bestowed special capacities for influence, is especially duty-bound to use these capacities in the direction outlined.
This is not the time to engage in theoretic research as into all the aspects of the situation, and postpone action pending the results of such research. For, when a house is on fire, there is no time to study the laws of combustion and methods of fire extinguishing, but everything must be done to extinguish the fire before the house is destroyed, with possible loss of life.
... Similarly, you have the capacity to extend your influence beyond your immediate surroundings at home, to the community at large. This you can do both in a direct way and perhaps even more so in an indirect way, by raising the standards of your religious and spiritual living.
Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Halevi Edeles, known as the Maharsha, was born in Posen in the 16th century. He became renown as a brilliant scholar at an early age, and was chosen as a son-in-law by Rabbi Moshe Ashkenazi. His in-laws founded a yeshiva and placed it under his leadership. His mother-in-law, Edel, supported the students and he took on the last name Edeles in appreciation. His commentary on the Talmud has become so popular, that it is printed in all the standard editions of the Talmud, and is regarded as a "must" for all Talmud scholars. He passed away on 5 Kislev, 1631.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week (on Thursday) we began the new month of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar. Is there a special connection between the beginning of the new month ("Rosh Chodesh") and specifically this month of Kislev?
In a talk, the Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out a unique connection. Rosh Chodesh represents the renewal of the moon. This renewal does not occur unearned, but comes about through its previously carried out service of self-diminution.
As the Rebbe explained, this is alluded to in our Sages' statement that G-d told the moon, "Go and make yourself small." Why did G-d have to say "Go," rather than just "Make yourself small"? To emphasize that in order to "go," to make genuine progress and rise to a level that is completely above those already achieved, it is necessary to "make yourself small."
This same idea is alluded to in the book of Samuel: "Tomorrow is the new moon, and you shall be taken notice of because your seat will be empty." This implies that the path to receiving "special attention" is self-diminution, "making one's place empty."
Symbolically, this corresponds to the service of the soul in the physical world. Although the process itself involves descent and self-diminution, it ultimately generates the potential for the soul to reach previously unattainable heights, had the soul remained on the spiritual level.
Moreover, the name Kislev represents a fusion of opposites. "Kis" refers to a state of concealment, whereas "lev" (lamed-vav) is symbolic of the ultimate in revelation. (Lamed-vav, numerically equivalent to 36, six times six, represents the highest level of revelation of our six emotional powers.)
Kislev is also called "the month of redemption." May the coming month truly be a time of thanksgiving and redemption for the entire Jewish people, with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
And he called his name Jacob (Gen. 25:26)
When Jacob was born, the singular verb "he called" is used; by Esau's birth, the Torah states, "and they called his name Esau." This alludes to the fact that the paths of evil are many, but there is only one truth in the world - the truth of Torah. Throughout his life Esau was surrounded by many sympathizers and friends. Jacob, however, was supported only by the tiny number of rare individuals who appreciated his worth.
And his hand was holding onto Esau's heel (Gen. 25:26)
The Hebrew word for "heel" - ekev - is related to the word "ikveta" - literally "footsteps," the End of Days, when the "footsteps" of Moshiach will usher in the Era of Redemption. At that time, the verse, "and his hand was holding onto Esau's heel" will find its ultimate fulfillment, and the final victory will belong to the Jewish people.
Esau, symbolic of the animal soul and the evil inclination, was born first, as chronologically, a person possesses an evil inclination for a long time before he has a good one. (The good inclination is acquired upon Bar/Bat Mitzva.) Jacob symbolizes the Jew's G-dly soul and his good inclination. The Divine service of Jacob thus consists of keeping his hand on Esau's "heel," as the true reason the G-dly soul descends into this world is to achieve the correction of the animal soul.
He moved on from there and dug another well, and they did not fight over it. He called it Rechovot (lit. "spacious") saying, "Now G-d has made room for us" (Gen. 26:22)
The three wells Isaac dug are symbolic of the three Holy Temples. These are the wells of "living waters" which give us our spiritual life. The first well Isaac dug proved to be a source of strife, just as the first Temple was destroyed in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. The second Holy Temple, like Isaac's second well, was also eventually destroyed, by Titus and his armies. But the third well remained, just as the Third Holy Temple which we eagerly await, will be eternal.
At his grandson's circumcision celebration, the great Chasidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810), recounted the following episode:
"This morning I arose very early to prepare myself to perform the brit mila (circumcision) of my dear grandchild. At daybreak I opened the window and saw a penetrating darkness in the heavens. As I wondered about the blackness before my eyes, it was made known to me that this very day a prince of Israel, the holy Tzadik (righteous person), Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Sassov, had passed away.
"As I mourned for that master of Israel, I heard a voice cry out: 'Make way for Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib!'
"When Rabbi Moshe entered the celestial realms, the Tzadikim and Chasidim formed a joyous circle around him. Suddenly, he heard a voice reaching from one end of the world to the other. Intrigued, he began following it until he found himself at the gates of Gehinnom (Purgatory).
"Without waiting for permission, Rabbi Moshe entered Gehinnom. The guards saw him walking back and forth as if looking for somebody. They were certain that he had come there by mistake and they politely asked him to ascend to his proper place in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).
"Rabbi Moshe said nothing. The guards repeated their request, but he remained silent and did not move. They didn't know whether to drive him out or permit him to remain. They decided to confer with the Heavenly Court, but even it was puzzled. Never had a Tzadik descended into Gehinnom of his own desire. Rabbi Moshe was summoned before the Throne of Glory where he made his request known.
"Rabbi Moshe began, 'Master of the World, You know how great is the mitzva (commandment) of redeeming captives. I have occupied myself with this mitzva my entire life, and I have never differentiated between wicked captives and righteous captives. All were equally beloved by me, and I had no peace until I had succeeded in freeing them. Now that I have entered the World of Truth, I find that there are many captives here, too. I wish to fulfill this mitzva here, as well.
"'I will not leave Gehinnom until I have fulfilled this mitzva. So dear are Your commandments to me that I have observed them no matter what the place or time or penalty might be. If I cannot bring these wretched souls to freedom, I would rather remain with them in the fires of Gehinnom than to sit with the righteous and bask in the light of the Divine Presence!'
"Rabbi Moshe's words flew before the Throne of Glory, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, uttered the decision: 'Great are the Tzadikim who are ready to relinquish their share in the Gan Eden for the sake of others. Because this mitzva is so noble, let it be calculated how many people Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib redeemed during his lifetime, both they and their children, and their children's children until the end of time. That number he may redeem here, also.'
"The Book of Records was immediately brought, opened and read. The names of all those who had been redeemed by Rabbi Moshe were counted and their children and their children's children. The final figure arrived at was 60,000 souls from Gehinnom to Gan Eden.
"Rabbi Moshe began to walk through Gehinnom, looking into countless pits and caves where he found souls who had suffered for a long time. One by one he gathered them and when he was finished, he found their number to be exactly 60,000. Column after column emerged from Gehinnom, marching with them at their head, until they arrived at Gan Eden.
"When all 60,000 souls had entered, the gates were closed."
After recounting this story, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak named his little grandson Moshe Yehuda Leib and blessed him to grow up to emulate the holy Tzadik, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib of Sassov.
From The Crown of Creation, by Chana Weisberg, published by Mosaic Press
Isaac intended to reveal to Esau the day Moshiach would come, in the hope that it would cause him to leave his evil ways. At that very moment G-d hid it from Isaac and said, "In the future I will conceal this information from Jacob's sons because they aren't deserving, and I should let it be known to this wicked man, Esau?"