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"You didn't buy a house!" That's the home-grown wisdom one Yiddishe Mama dispenses to her adult children when they purchase an item that they later decide is not to their liking. It wasn't such a big investment of time and money that you have to lose sleep over it, she is counseling her offspring.
But once you've purchased that house, or even if you're not yet up to buying a house but simply want to make your rented quarters homey, what furnishings should it contain?
Jewish teachings suggest that we furnish our homes, first and foremost, with people.
Rabbi Yosay ben Yoezer of Tzrayda taught that our homes should be a meeting place for Jewish scholars. His colleague, Rabbi Yosay ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said that our homes should be wide open for guests and that the poor should be treated as members of one's household.
Taking this advice from our Sages gives a special ambiance to our homes even before we've decided on the decor.
But what of the furniture, fixtures, appliances, gadgets, rugs and art? When purchased with the right attitude, these can all be within the spirit of Judaism.
Such an attitude is aptly represented by a story of Reb Pinchas Reizes, a famous chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe.
Reb Pinchas was fabulously wealthy. And yet, when he mentioned to Rabbi Shneur Zalman his plans to build himself a beautiful, brick mansion, the Rebbe asked him, "Pinchas, why do you need such a mansion?"
As most of the other houses in his city were made of wood, his home would stand out and could be construed as an ostentatious sign of wealth and pretentiousness.
"Rebbe, believe me," explained Reb Pinchas, "when I think about building my house, I shed more tears than there will be bricks. I keep reminding myself, 'Do I need a brick mansion?'
"But, because I will have a mansion, important community meetings will take place in 'Pinchas' mansion.' Since the meeting is taking place in 'Pinchas' mansion,' Pinchas has a say. Once Pinchas has a say...!
"Now, if Pinchas doesn't have a mansion, the meeting won't be taking place by Pinchas. Then Pinchas won't have a say...."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman responded, "You are right, it is a proper thing for you." Early Chassidic Personalities by Rabbi S. B. Avtzon
Some people chose to tailor their home's furnishings to the guests that will fill their homes. This might preclude white sofas or carpeting, expensive antiques or collectables within reach of small children, or other items one must ponder before purchasing if one's home will be filled with guests of all shapes, sizes and age.
To make a dwelling into a "home," a home in which one's family and friends can truly feel "at home," the advice of Jewish teachings is the best decorator around.
In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, Moses recounts the story of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the first set of Tablets. After breaking the Tablets, Moses prayed for 40 days and nights that G-d would forgive the Jewish people. G-d then commands Moses, "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first... I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke."
G-d then commands the Jewish people to build Him a sanctuary, "so the nations will know that the sin of the Calf has been forgiven."
Our Sages teach that one of the factors contributing to the sin of the Golden Calf was the great quantity of gold in the Jews' possession.
Because they were unable to withstand the temptation, one might think that, after their sin, G-d would forbid them the use of gold for all time. Yet we find that the exact opposite occurred: the very first material mentioned in the building of the sanctuary - the purpose of which was to atone for the Golden Calf - is gold!
"The world was not worthy to use of gold..." our Sages explain. "It was created solely for the purpose of the sanctuary and the Holy Temple." After being brought into existence for this reason, permission was then granted for mankind to utilize gold for other purposes as well.
This is but one example of the principle that everything in the world is created to serve a G-dly purpose. "Everything created by G-d in His world is only created for His honor," the Mishna teaches.
G-d grants man the free will to choose how His creations are to be used - to fulfill the purpose for which they were created, or, G-d forbid, to do evil. Gold, created solely for use in the sanctuary and Temple, was utilized by the Children of Israel for their idol-worship. The gross misuse of the gold, however, did not alter its original purpose one iota. G-d has no desire to destroy His world simply because some people are foolish!
Furthermore, the fact that G-d allows man the capacity to utilize His creations for evil adds to His honor. For human nature is such that when a person is confronted by obstacles, inner strengths that would not otherwise have been revealed are brought to the fore, strengthening his resolve in the service of G-d.
This fundamental principle applies not only to things created during the Six Days of Creation, but to modern discoveries and advancements in technology that are constantly being invented. These too, are part of Divine plan, and are also "discovered" solely for a G-dly purpose. The true objective behind all of creation, in reality, is one and the same - to enhance the service of the Creator of all things.
The fact that some people choose to utilize these means for corrupt purposes does not detract from their original intent. On the contrary, when a Jew utilizes technology for the purpose of spreading Torah and its commandments, he elevates them to their true perfection, for which they were discovered initially.
Adapted from Sefer Hasichot, 5748, Vol. II
Spiritual Revival in Kazahkstan
by Chani Nussbaum
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, served as the Chief Rabbi of Yekatrinoslav (today S. Petersburg), Russia, for over 30 years from 1907 to 1939. In 1939 he was arrested by the communist regime for his fearless stance against the Communist Party's efforts to eradicate Torah Judaism in the Soviet Union. After more than a year of torture and interrogations, he was sentenced to exile in Chi'ili, Russia. After completing four years in exile in Chi'ili, Reb Levi Yitzchak moved with his wife, Rebbetzin Chana (who had followed him into exile) to nearby Alma Ata, where he passed away less than four months later on 20 Av, 1944.
Leah Cohen and Sarah Lifpsitz, together with their husbands Rabbi Elchanan Cohen and Rabbi Bezalel Lifpsitz, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Alma Ata (Almaty), Kazakhstan. Under their direction, Jewish life in that city has flourished.
CN: How many Jews live in Alma Ata today?
Leah: About 1,000 Jewish families, all of whom are involved in some way in Jewish life. I assume there are many more Jews but unfortunately, they don't even know they are Jewish.
CN: Why Alma Ata of all places?
Leah: Before we were married, when my husband Elchanan and my brother-in-law Bezalel Lifpsitz were still yeshiva students, they came to Alma Ata. At that time, they helped revitalize a shul (synagogue) that was very old. When we got married a few years later, we came here as emissaries of the Rebbe. We came 16 years ago and the Lifpsitzs joined us 11 years ago. When we came there was tremendous ignorance when it came to anything connected with Judaism. Tremendous progress has been made. There have been enormous changes for the good. We are sure this is thanks to Reb Levi Yitzchak. Our center is just a 15 minute walk to Reb Levik's Ohel (resting place). From all over the world people send prayer requests that we bring to his Ohel.
CN: It is an ancient Jewish custom to pray at the resting place of the righteous. Do you know of any special stories that happened to people after praying at Reb Levi Yitzchak Schneerson's resting place?
Leah: Of course! A couple who was married for years without children decided to go to Reb Levik's Ohel. The husband promised, "If we have a son, we will name him Levi Yitzchak. If it's a girl, we will name her Chana (Reb Levi Yitzchak's wife)." A year later they had a son and he kept his promise and named him Levi Yitzchak. A year after that, they had a daughter and they named her Chana.
An important community member came here and prayed at the Ohel for his daughter who was married for 17 years without having children. Shortly after his visit here we were told that his daughter conceived and gave birth to a girl. There was an Israeli couple who came to Kazakhstan to adopt a child. They adopted a little girl. We told them to pray at the Ohel and they did, and they promised to be particular about the laws of Family Purity. They had a child of their own, a son, after that!
Sarah: I'd like to share my own story that happened to me in the merit of Reb Levi Yitzchak. When we got here I was pregnant with our first child. In my eighth month I went into labor. This was very stressful since medical care here is quite primitive and I had not planned on giving birth in Alma Ata. It would be like giving birth in the desert. They haven't even heard of disposable diapers here! We went to Reb Levi Yitzchak's Ohel to pray. My husband asked for a blessing for me that aI should have an easy birth at the right time. He also asked for a blessing for a businessmen's club that he was starting; the first meeting was to be that night.
That evening, at the meeting with the businessmen, there was a man who introduced himself as an experienced gynecologist. "I have stopped accepting patients and I am becoming proficient in Western medicine. I would be happy to help you in any way possible." My husband immediately told him about my situation. He was able to alleviate the problem and I gave birth to a healthy, full term baby. This doctor, who is now my doctor, has become very famous and his clinic is visited by people who need complicated treatment. He has a lot of experience, just like any doctor in the Western world.
My husband's request for a blessing for the businessmen's club also came to ruition. Direct flights from Kazakhstan to Tel Aviv were resumed and now there are flights twice each week. We see how everything here is miraculous. Reb Levi Yitzchak is the channel for success and for the spiritual revival here (which may also be responsible for the mass aliya to Israel of the Jews of Kazakhstan.
CN: How do you manage with kosher food and Jewish education for your children?
Leah: It's easier to get kosher food now. Like many shluchim, we import alot of food. For milk, we go ourselves to supervise the milking. But as for cheese and other dairy products, we have learned to live without them. My husband is a shochet (ritual slaughterer) so we have a steady supply of kosher meat for ourselves and for the community. Regarding our children's education, we teach our younger children and our older daughters learn with the Online Shluchim School which is a big help.
CN: What do the children think about being shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe)?
Leah: We have never heard them say it's hard for them, or that they feel isolated because we make sure to convey that it's fun to be shluchim and a big privilege. I returned from Israel after giving birth to my seventh child there. I discovered that my children's level of knowledge is no less than that of Israeli children and is many ways even greater. It's moving to see the children as full partners in our shlichut.
On 20 Av each year there is a large gathering near Reb Levi Yitzchak's Ohel. People hear the life story of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok and are very inspired. Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Kazahstan always declares, "The communists did not vanquish Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. The spiritual revival in Kazakhstan testifies to this."
Adapted from an article in Beis Moshiach Magazine
The Letter and the Spirit
The Letter and the Spirit, vol. 2 is a collection of English correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, written to the individual, yet with a relevant message and lesson for the many. Volume One was published in 1998. Volume Two, just published, contains letters on many different topics including a large section on Torah and Science. Published by Nissen Mindel Publications.
Adventures in 3D
The KGB, a frightening water fall, separated twins, the secret the new classmate was hiding, an inheritance worth millions... Zalman Ruderman's adventures for young readers present suspenseful plots and teach care and concern for others in a thought-provoking and exciting style. A book for young readers or that can be read to the children, it will keep them in suspence until the very last page and teach them good character traits at the same time. A new release from BSD Publishers.
28th of Menachem Av, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of the 17th of August in which you write about your difficulty to cope with the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination]. You surely know of the general advice of our Sages who stated that G-d created the Yetzer Hora but also created the Torah as an antidote. In other words, learning Torah with devotion and diligence, the kind of learning that leads to the fulfillment of the Mitzvos [commandments] in daily practice, is the way to overcome the difficulty you mention. Moreover, although we are commanded to fulfill the Mitzvos without any thought of reward, G-d has promised a reward for their fulfillment, which should be an added inducement to fulfill them with sincerity and joy.
With regard to the question as to where you should continue your Torah studies, in your present Yeshivah or another one, the answer depends on the amount of success which you enjoyed in the present Yeshivah, and what are the prospects for your continued success there as compared with another Yeshivah. You should discuss the matter with someone who can give you an objective opinion.
I trust that you observe the daily quota of Tehillim [Psalms], as it is divided according to the days of the month. I also suggest that you have your Tefillin checked, and that you should set aside a cent or two for Tzedoko [charity] every weekday morning before putting on the Tefillin.
P.S. Since the above was written, your subsequent letter was received, in which you write about the question of your entering the Lubavitcher Yeshivah, etc. In this connection you ought inquire of the Yeshivah administration as to what would be the requirements in your case.
It would be well if at the time of the interview you would have someone from Camp Gan Yisroel, such as a Counselor or friend, who could find out for you any pertinent data, concerning your admission to the Lubavitcher Yeshivah.
15th of Av, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
After the very long interval, I received your letter of the 12th of Menachem Av, in addition to the telephone message, to which you received my reply. May G-d grant that you have good news to report about all the things which you mentioned in your letter.
You can well understand my reaction to your writing that you have done "very little" in your secular studies lately. Without entering upon a discussion concerning the matter itself, the fact is that where there is a sincere effort to do a thing efficiently and attain the objective fully, one finds later the opportunity to utilize these efforts in many ways. Above all, time is one of the most precious gifts which G-d has given to the human being, and which should be used to the fullest advantage, inasmuch as the loss of time cannot be retrieved. Although I can well understand the reasons which you mention, which prevented you from making better use of your time, nevertheless knowing you, knowing also the encouragement that your wife surely gives you, you ought to find the ways of overcoming all difficulties. Our Sages said, "One should not bewail the past," for the important thing is to concentrate on the future.
May G-d grant that you will fulfill the precept "Know Him in all your ways," thus putting to good advantage also your secular studies in the service of G-d. I need hardly point out to you the teachings of Chassidus on the subject from the Baal Shem Tov, whose 200th anniversary of the completion of his life's work we are observing this year, of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], and of my father-in-law of saintly memory. I refer you, particularly, to the Maamar [Chasidic discourse] b'laylo ha'hu, Purim 5700, end of par. 4.
You do not mention anything about your studies of the Torah, both Nigleh [the revealed parts of Torah] and Chassidus, though I trust that you not only have regular study periods, but that you also make efforts to increase them.
Hoping to hear good news from you in all above, and wishing you especially a successful year in connection with your forthcoming birthday,
Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah Hakohen (960-1040), also known as "Meor Hagola," the Light of the Exile, lived in France. He was one of the greatest scholars of his time and was famous for his Talmudic commentaries, legal responsa, and penitential prayers, but especially for the social legislation dealing with family life which he enacted. Among others, he forbade the practice of having more than one wife, and of opening another person's mail. This legislation was accepted by all the Jews of Europe and is binding on us to this very day. He established the first yeshiva on the Rhine, which attracted the greatest scholars.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 20th of Av, is the yahrzeit of the Rebbe's father, Reb Levi Yitzchok. Reb Levi Yitzchok, or "Reb Levik" as he was known, suffered greatly at the hands of the Communist government. But throughout his ordeal, he remained stead fast in his commitment to teach Torah. He encouraged and inspired those around him to observe mitzvot and reconnect to their rich traditions.
In 1939 Reb Leivik was arrested for teaching Torah, which the Communists said undermined the authority of the government. Reb Levi Yitzchok was sentenced to five years in exile.
Reb Levi Yitzchok stood as a great inspiration then and in our time as well. His efforts helped many Jews hold onto the teachings of the Torah when those around them wanted to eradicate all traces of religious life. In addition, many of the people Reb Leivik taught and inspired went on to be positive influences to their brethren.
In the 5th chapter of Pirkei Avot we learn about people, such as those Reb Leivik inspired to teach and influence others.
It states: "Whenever a person causes many to have merit, no sin shall come through him."
This does not mean that if a person has a positive influence on others he will no longer have free will and be prevented from sinning, but that when a person brings so many other people to do the right thing, as did Reb Levi Yitzchok, the positive influence this generates prevents him from becoming involved in situations where he might be led to sin.
We hope and pray that we will soon be led into the era of Moshiach, when every influence will be a positive one, and every situation will be one that leads only to good.
And now, Israel, what does G-d want of you? Only that you be in awe of G-d your L-rd, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him...(Deut. 10:12)
Awe without love is not complete. Love without awe is nothing.
(Rabbi Aharon of Karlin)
And you shall keep and do them [plural]...and He will love you and bless you [singular] (Deut. 7:12-13)
"And you shall keep and do them" is in the plural, as it refers to keeping the Torah's mitzvot (commandments), which all Jews must do equally. "And He will love you and bless you" is in the singular, as it refers to the reward a Jew receives for his observance, which is entirely individual. Although all Jews keep the same mitzvot, they do so with different levels of enthusiasm, devotion and motivation; thus they are given varying degrees of reward.
Now Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you except to fear G-d (Deut. 10:12)
"People are strange," Rabbi Chanoch of Alexander used to say. "They beg and plead that G-d should give them 'fear of heaven,' when this is something that is entirely in the individual's control. Yet when it comes to livelihood, they imagine that they are in charge."
There are many mitzvot (commandments) that require physical "objects" in order to observe them. For example, a person cannot fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit (fringes) without a garment to put them on, nor can one affix a mezuza without a house and door post. An incarcerated person is also severely limited as to what he can do. "Fear of G-d," however, is dependent on nothing. A Jew can fulfill this mitzva anywhere, and at any time.
During the times of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, a law was passed to forcibly relocate Jews from rural villages to larger towns. This particularly harsh decree left many Jews destitute, without a source of livelihood, and a great deal of money was needed to alleviate their plight. Not only were many poor families without basic necessities, but officials had to be bribed to leave the Jews in peace. To this end, Rabbi Shneur Zalman began traveling extensively throughout the region asking for donations.
One such mission took Rabbi Shneur Zalman to the district of Vohlin, not far from the city of Toltshin, where Reb Boruch, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, resided. Rabbi Shneur Zalman decided to visit Reb Boruch and Reb Boruch was delighted by the honor.
"What brings you here?" Reb Boruch asked.
"Well," Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "I am raising funds to convince the government officials to leave the Jews alone. The pitiful plight of my brethren is too much to bear."
Reb Boruch was surprised. "But surely you could have averted the decree on the spiritual level! Why are you actually going around collecting money?"
Rabbi Shneur Zalman explained: "I am only following a precedent. When our Patriarch Jacob was in danger, no doubt he could have alleviated the harsh decree in a spiritual way, without having to placate his brother Esau with gifts. Yet we see that he declared, 'I am sending a present to my lord Esau...that he be appeased.'"
Reb Boruch remained unconvinced. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was a great tzadik; why did he have to lower himself to act within the natural order? "But why didn't you just teach them the meaning of 'Echad' ('One') according to my grandfather's teachings? The decree would then have been automatically nullified!"
"It was your grandfather's 'Echad' that caused this decree in the first place,' Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied. He then revealed the following:
After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, there was not one country willing to take them in. The reason for this (as with everything else that happens in the physical world) originated in the higher spheres. In heaven, the ministering angels representing the various nations were arguing among themselves. "We don't want the Jews to live in our land!" each angel cried. "The first thing they'll do is build synagogues and houses of study. They'll learn Torah and they'll pray. We don't want them to declare 'Hash-m Echad - G-d is One!' "
The angels were afraid that this declaration of G-d's unity would nullify their very existence, much as darkness is dispelled in the presence of light. This spiritual reality was reflected down below, and the leaders of each nation refused to accept the Jews. There was only one angel who was not afraid, the ministering angel of Poland. In fact, he saw this as a golden opportunity to increase his own impure powers.
"They don't scare me," he declared. "I will take them in and it will be to my advantage. It is true that they'll build yeshivas and study Torah, and they will declare 'G-d is One.' But they will not have the proper intentions, and I will grow stronger."
And so it came to pass. The king of Poland agreed to accept a bribe - a pile of money as high as a mounted Cossack holding a spear upright.
Indeed, the Jews arrived in Poland in droves. They built synagogues and houses of study, established businesses, learned Torah and recited the "Shema" ("Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One"). And, as the ministering angel had predicted, they did not have the proper intentions. The angel was delighted that his plan was working. His own powers were increasing from day to day. Unfortunately for him, however, the Baal Shem Tov came along and taught the Jews a dimension of "Echad" that was entirely different.
"That's not fair!" the angel of Poland cried. "The deal is off-the bargain is null and void! I only agreed to accept them under the terms of the old 'Echad,' not the new one!"
Down on earth, the Jews would have to find another home. The noose was tightened around the throat of European Jewry, and many Jews were expelled from their villages.
"Now do you understand?" Rabbi Shneur Zalman concluded. "The new law is a direct result of your grandfather's 'Echad,' and that is why money is once again needed to avert the harsh decree..."
Everything that happens to the Jews while they are in exile must strengthen their hope and trust that in the very immediate future, they will leave the exile in the true and complete redemption led by Moshiach. Then, every member of the Jewish people will gather together in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, and in the Holy Temple, "the Sanctuary of G-d established by Your hands." This is hastened by the activities which each Jew undertakes to transform his own personal home into a "sanctuary in microcosm."
(The Rebbe, 22 Menachem Av, 5749-1989)