Dust Particles | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Today Is ... | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
You're sitting on your favorite chair, admiring the sun streaming through the window. Suddenly you notice those shimmering particles gracefully dancing in the sunlight.
It's easy to spot the dust that seems to collect just moments after the furniture has been cleaned, but in the air it's only noticeable once in a while, when the light streaming in from outside hits the dust particles at just the right angle. Nevertheless, those dust particles are always there.
Every single detail of our lives is directed by Divine Providence. "The feet of man are directed by G-d," the Torah teaches. Chasidic philosophy explains that nothing, absolutely nothing in this world happens by chance or coincidence; every event, great or small, has G-d's fingerprint on it.
Often, like the ever-present, but infrequently sighted, dust particles, we do not notice this Divine involvement in our personal lives and the world around us.
Sometimes, once in a while, we see the Divine workings and apprehend G-d's involvement in even the most minute part of our lives. At those moments, it's as if a stream of sunlight is shining on the glimmering specks at just the right angle to reveal them to us.
It happens when we least expect it and it might seem so trivial that we don't even notice it for what it truly is - Divine Providence: You're running an errand for a friend (and you're running late, as well) and a car pulls out of a parking space - in the area where you can never find a space - just as you approach.
Someone who moved and whose phone number changed calls you just as you were about to give up finding the scrap of paper on which you wrote the new phone number...
You're driving in the car, as thirsty as anything, but without anything (to drink). Suddenly you remember that a bottle of Seltzer had rolled out of the shopping bag under the seat and you hadn't bothered to retrieve it when you unloaded the rest of the groceries...
The pile of leaves your children just raked together make the perfect soft-landing for a neighbor's toddler who squiggles out of his stroller - head first.
These "coincidences" are hardly coincidental. They are all Divine acts of G-d's intervention and involvement in our lives, even in the seemingly inconsequential.
Like the particles of dust, they are always there. Like the particles of dust, they often seem unimportant. But they are a constant reminder of G-d's presence in our lives, if we are willing to "let the sun shine" on them and if we are willing to recognize their true source.
The first of the Five Books of Moses, Bereishit (Genesis), is also called the "Book of the Just," as it narrates the lives of our ancestors, whom the Talmud refers to as "just." As it is axiomatic in Judaism that "the deeds of the ancestors are a sign for their descendants," it follows that Genesis is the "blueprint" for all Jews in their service of the Creator. In other words, Genesis teaches us how a Jew is supposed to live.
This idea is expressed in the names of the Torah portions themselves. The first portion in Genesis is Bereishit ("in the beginning"), which instills the basic awareness that G-d created the world for the Torah and for the Jewish people. The second portion, Noach, alludes to the ultimate objective in the world's creation: to bring nachat ruach (pleasure; linguistically related to the name Noach) to G-d by fulfilling His desire for a "dwelling place" in the physical realm.
The next portion, Lech Lecha ("go out"), describes the dynamics of how this is accomplished: The soul is forced to leave the higher spiritual realms and become enclothed in a corporeal body, where it is constantly urged to transcend the level it has already attained and climb to the next. Vayeira ("and He appeared") refers to G-d's special revelation to every Jewish soul, which assists us in our Divine mission.
This G-dly revelation penetrates all aspects of the soul, hinted at in the name of the next Torah portion, Chayei Sara ("the life of Sara"). Sara lived 127 years, which is an esoteric allusion to all of the soul's powers. Once G-d gives us these capabilities, we are then able to create Toldot ("generations" or "descendants"), as our Sages stated, "The descendants of the righteous are their good deeds."
After this basic outline has been defined, the Jew's service is further elucidated in the next two portions, Vayeitzei ("and he went out") and especially in this week's Torah reading, Vayishlach ("and he sent"). "And Jacob went out from Beersheba and went to Charan" refers to the Jew's spiritual journey to even the very lowest levels of existence for the purpose of elevating them. But even that is not enough. The Jew must then send out "messengers" to Esau, symbolic of the antithesis of G-dliness and holiness, to purify and refine these realms as well.
The next portion, Vayeisheiv ("and he dwelt"), refers to G-d enabling us to live in peace and tranquility, which leads to Mikeitz ("at the end") - the successful completion of our mission. All Jews will be completely united with G-d (Vayigash -"and he came near"), which will then culminate in eternal life with the resurrection of the dead (Vayechi - "and he lived").
However, the main part of our mission - the refinement of evil and its transformation into good, in preparation for Moshiach's coming - is contained in this week's Torah portion.
Adapted from Vol. 1 of Hitva'aduyot 5750
by Pauline Dubkin Yearwood
Eleven days out of the month, every month, Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman wakes at 4 a.m. and gets ready for a 12- to 15-hour day that might see him traveling up to 400 miles. At the end of his journey? Often, a single Jewish prisoner.
That doesn't matter to Scheiman, who has been doing this work since he moved to Chicago in 1980. He'll go to any one of Illinois' more than 25 state, county and federal jails and prisons if there is even one Jew incarcerated there.
He estimates there are between 100 and 150 Jewish prisoners in the correctional system at any one time in Illinois.
Often, he does no more than sit and talk with the incarcerated person - whom he calls a client, not a prisoner. He talks, he listens, he prays, he advocates. Sometimes he reads from the Torah, other times he'll go to bat for a prisoner who wants to have kosher meals. And his help doesn't stop when a person is released.
Many of those he has helped say his visits were a lifeline.
They are people like Diane, who did not want her last name used in this article and who was incarcerated for years in various prisons for what she says were white collar crimes.
"He's just the best. He doesn't judge you - I could tell him anything and he wouldn't be shocked. He keeps you going. I've been out many years and he's been there for me the whole time. I adore him," she says.
Sam Horowitz, a young Jewish man whose struggles with anti-Semitism at a downstate Illinois prison were detailed in a front-page Chicago Jewish News story in 2006, says Scheiman "was a vital part in my sanity. He always had my back. I respect him more than anybody else on this planet and I don't think there is one person he has interacted with who doesn't feel the same way."
Horowitz has been free for three years after spending nearly nine years in prison and is doing well; he stays in touch with Scheiman and sometimes volunteers with his organization. That's not unusual, the rabbi says.
Now Scheiman, still grieving the death of his wife, Hinda, from cancer five months ago, hopes to do even more for prisoners and former prisoners and their families and is looking to expand his organization, which he has renamed the Hinda Institute and now includes two of his sons as partners. The name, aside from honoring his wife, stands for "Helping Individuals Ascend." That's how he sees the job.
Rabbi Scheiman didn't set out to be a prison chaplain, he said in a recent interview. Recently married, he came to Chicago in 1980 from his native Brooklyn as a Chabad Lubavitch emissary tasked with running the area's Gan Israel camps. Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz had just become the head of Illinois' Chabad organization and he needed personnel.
"I was his first hire, and when I got here I asked, what exactly do you want me to do" aside from heading the camp program, Scheiman says. "There weren't many Lubavitchers in Chicago, so he said, why don't you start with things that don't cost money - give classes, speak, organize things."
Scheiman was beginning to do that when he received a call from a Jewish man from New York whose son had gotten into trouble and was in prison in downstate Joliet. It was just before Passover.
"He asked if we could see to it that his son would have matzah and grape juice, have a Haggadah for Passover," Scheiman says. "I started making calls, I called the prison, the (non-Jewish) chaplain and arranged to drop off matzah and grape juice. That was my first contact within six weeks of moving to Chicago."
Slowly, he began getting more involved with Jewish prisoners, and when the rabbi who had been visiting the Cook County jail in Chicago died, he took over that task as well.
"As I was doing it, I felt a sense that this is what I should be doing," he says.
"He was the first person to visit me when I was incarcerated. He visited me every month and he was very inspirational and forgiving. He inspires you with words - I can't explain how he does it but he makes you feel better about yourself. He seems to be able to get past all the things that people think about people who are incarcerated and get them back in touch with who they are, what they are supposed to be, just feeling better about yourself....I don't think I've ever met a person like him before. He is still my rav. I talk with him every week." - Michael (he did not want his last name used).
There was a problem. Scheiman had no official status - "I couldn't walk into the prison. I was sitting with the other visitors in the visiting room," he says. He and Rabbi Moscowitz eventually met with several government officials, including then-State Sen. Howard Carroll.
"He said, 'We have imams and priests going to visit (members of) their faith groups, why not have a Jewish one?' " Scheiman relates. Eventually, accompanied by much red tape, that came to pass. It meant that Scheiman had easier access to prisoners in every facility in the state and received a small stipend, along with paid mileage. (It's not his only job; he also heads Chabad of Niles and still oversees the Gan Israel camps.)
Today, he might visit up to 25 prisons, assuming that each has at least one Jewish inmate (not always the case). One facility he goes to regularly is Cook County Jail, where, he says, out of a population of about 10,000, there are usually up to 15 Jews awaiting trial. If non-Jewish prisoners ask for his assistance or show an interest in Judaism, he will offer his services to them as well.
What he does during his visits depends almost entirely on what the inmate wants, he says. It might be anything from praying with tefillin (inmates are not allowed to keep the ritual objects in their cells for safety reasons) to delivering food for Passover to helping sort out problems by talking to family members on the outside.
"I am there first and foremost to remind them that they are a human being, they're not just a number. That they were created by G-d, they have a purpose, they have something good inside them," he says. "I go in with a friendly non-judgmental attitude and to them that is like a breath of fresh air. The main thing I do is go. The mere fact of someone coming in with a smile, not to judge, to lift up someone's spirit - does it pay to travel 300 miles and spend 12 hours driving to see one Jew in a maximum security prison? Yes, when you see the face of that man or woman."
Four new couples have joined the 40 families of emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.
Rabbi Chaim and Rivky Chazzan, Rabbi Eliyahu and Maryashya Cheifer, Rabbi Menacham Mendel and Malki Feldman and Rabbi Dovid and Elisheva Altman. They will primarily be involved in youth and adult education.
Rabbi Shmuly and Rochi Silberstein are moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to direct the Adult Education programs and the Chabad Hebrew School.
Rabbi Levi and Chaish Mentz recently moved to Bel Air, California, to serve as Directors of Adult Education at Chabad of Bel Air.
New Student Center
With 5,000 Jewish students in Berlin, Germany, it's no surprise that Chabad on Campus International and Chabad of Berlin have teamed up to open a Jewish Student Center in that city. Rabbi Tzvi and Chaya Greenberg serve Humboldt University, Technical University of Berlin, Charit้ Medical School, the Free University, Touro College and dozens of other institutions.
These two letters were correspondence to the same person
Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5733 (1972)
I duly received the telephone message as well as the letter in regard to your state of health, and I remembered you in prayer at the holy resting place of my father-in-law, of saintly memory, in accordance with the request.
From what I have been informed about your advancement in matters of Jewish observance, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you the importance of bitachon - complete trust in G-d - not just as an abstract belief, but in a way that truly permeates one's whole being. For, in addition to this being one of the very fundamentals of our faith and way of life, it is also a channel to receive G-d's blessings, especially for the success of the medical treatment, which has to be undertaken in the natural order, inasmuch as our holy Torah itself gives authority and power to doctors to heal and cure.
You surely also know that daily life, in accordance with the will of G-d, is the channel whereby Jews receive G-d's blessings in all their needs, and additional efforts in this direction bring additional Divine blessings.
In light of the above, I would also like to suggest that although it may involve inconvenience at this time, it would be well, if at all possible, that you, yourself should light the candles (well before sunset) on the eve of Shabbos, first reciting the blessing. Many also follow the custom of putting aside a few cents for tzedoko - charity - before lighting the candles. This should be done bli-neder - without future commitment, also making sure that no actual Sabbath desecration (G-d forbid) should be involved in this connection, either by the person lighting the candles or other members of the family. And since the Mitzvah (commandment) of lighting the candles on Shabbos eve and Yom Tov eve has been given specifically to Jewish women, this mitzva has a special merit and segula - indication for good - for Jewish women, and the Divine blessings that go with it. For this reason, this letter is being sent to you by Special Delivery, with a copy for Rabbi ........ to make sure it reaches you before Shabbos.
With prayerful wishes to you and kind regards to your husband,
26 Tammuz, 5733 (1973)
I was pleased to receive your letter of 18 Tammuz, following our conversation when you visited here. May G-d grant that just as your letter included good news, so you should be able to continue reporting good news in the same vein and in growing measure.
You mention that you had some questions and doubts, etc. Of course, one must not feel any shame in asking for clarification, and certainly should not keep any doubts within oneself, but seek answers. However, there is only one condition: Whatever the questions and doubts may be, they must not affect one's simple faith in G-d and in His Torah and Mitzvoth, even if the answers have temporarily eluded one. This condition goes back to the day when the Torah was received at Sinai on the principle of "na'aseh" - We will do - before "v'nishma," - We will understand - the guiding principle for all posterity. But after na'aseh follows v'nishma, for G-d, the essence of goodness, desires us to follow up [action] with knowledge and understanding, for then the totality of the person is involved in serving G-d to the fullest capacity.
However, one must always bear in mind the limitation of the human intellect in general, and particularly in relation to the area of G-dliness, which is essentially beyond human comprehension.
By way of analogy, even within the realm of human intellectual achievement, a small child cannot possibly comprehend an advanced mathematical or scientific formula conceived of by a great professor, though the latter was a small child at one time, and the mind of the former could one day even surpass the mind of the professor.
It is quite different in the relations between the human mind and the Divine Mind, where the difference is not in degree but in kind: between a created being and the Creator.
Therefore, the Torah and Mitzvoth, G-d's Wisdom and Will, can at best, be comprehended only in a limited way. To the extent of a person's capacity, he is welcome to inquire and probe, but, as above, without losing sight of the basic condition.
Beruria (2nd century CE) was the daughter of Rabbi Chanania ben Teradion and wife of the Rabbi Meir. She was an extremely learned woman who was proficient in the Scriptures and would study "300 laws from 300 teachers in one day" (Pesachim 62b). The Sages would consulted her on matter of Jewish law, especially those laws that applied to women. Once, there was a dispute between her and her brother, Rabbi Shimon ben Teradion. The Sage who was asked to judge the case said: "Rabbi Chanania's daughter Beruriah is a greater scholar than his son Rabbi Shimon."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Sunday is the wedding anniversary of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.
The Rebbe spoke many times about the sanctity of a Jewish marriage and the importance of shalom bayit, which refers to a harmonious relationship between husband and wife. In our morning prayers, we say that there are certain things of which one reaps the benefits in this world and the remainder is left for him in the world to come.
One of those mitzvot is bringing peace between a husband and wife. There are hundreds of letters from the Rebbe in response to questions about general or very particular problems in the area of shalom bayit.
(The Rebbe's advice will be beneficial not only in marriage but in other relationships as well.)
An excerpt from one such letter (freely translated) reads:"It is certain that every person can approach and influence another person in this matter, when proper thought is put into it and when one searches for the appropriate method that suits this particular person... If the occupation of the above-mentioned couple permits, it is sensible to say that a trip for several weeks of vacation, spent together in a manner of a second 'honeymoon' would rectify the entire situation."
In another response, the Rebbe advises: "It is understood according to the ruling of our Sages, how great is peace between a man and his wife; you must put as much effort into this as possible... it is emphasized in the teachings of Chasidut and specifically in the well-known talk of my father-in-law, that a person is created with a right eye and a left eye. The right eye teaches that one must always look at another Jew with a good eye, to see what is best and most pleasant in him, etc. Being that we have been so commanded in our Torah, a Torah of life, certainly we have been given the capacity and the possibility to fulfill the command, and there is nothing that stands in the way of the will."
May we imminently begin the era when there will be peace in the world, in our communities, within our families, with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
And Jacob was greatly afraid, and distressed (Gen. 32:8)
Why was Jacob so frightened of the coming confrontation with his brother Esau? There were two areas in which Esau was superior to Jacob: the performance of the commandment to honor one's parents, and the fact that Esau lived in the land of Israel. Jacob therefore worried that his merits were not sufficient to stand in the face of Esau's good deeds.
And Jacob was left alone (Gen. 32:25)
The commentator Rashi relates that Jacob had gone back to retrieve some "small flasks" which he had inadvertently left behind. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains that Jacob was exceedingly careful with his possessions because every object found within a person's domain has spiritual significance and repercussions. Our physical possessions are no less important in our service of G-d than the spiritual gifts we are given. All of our assets, talents, and skills are to be utilized to the same end - to bring us closer to our Father in heaven.
(The Rim of Gur)
Because he had perpetrated a disgrace in Israel...which cannot be done (Gen. 34:7)
There are some evil acts whose atonement is effected with the same type of deed which was perpetrated. For example, a murderer is put to death for his crime, and a thief must make restoration with the goods he stole. There are, however, some evils which do not fall into this category, because they are so vile that this rule does not apply. The rape of Dina was one of these.
And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. (Gen. 33:1)
Jacob went to meet with his brother Esau even though he knew that his life might be endangered by the encounter. But he didn't discuss the matter with anyone, or think twice about it. He just did it. From this we learn how important it is to DO things, because DOING is what will bring Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The wealthy chasid had stopped at the home of the mother of Reb Yisroel, the Ruzhiner Rebbe, before continuing his journey to visit Reb Yisroel in prison. "I would like to give his regards from his family, and especially from you, his mother," said the man.
The woman was visibly touched, and answered, "If you ask my son to give you a sign that he received my regards, I would be very happy."
The chasid arrived at the prison and was permitted a visit with Reb Yisroel, during which they discussed many hidden secrets of the Torah.
The conversation was so congenial that the chasid chanced a delicate question. "I would like to ask you something, but only if you won't be insulted or hurt by the question." Reb Yisroel agreed.
"The story is told of the Baal Shem Tov's visit to the city of Be'er where he was slighted by the rabbi who refused to greet him. The rabbi resisted all entreaties by the chasidim, saying that he did not consider the Baal Shem Tov knowledgeable in Torah despite the many miracles he performed. The chasidim laughed at this accusation. 'Why, our rebbe is a genius of the revealed Torah.' The rabbi thought for a moment, and said, 'Very well, then. I will test him on a part of the Talmud, and if I feel he knows it well, even I may ask him for advice.'
"The Baal Shem Tov agreed to be tested. The rabbi gave him a page to study in the Talmud, but then was called away on an urgent matter. When he returned, he tested the Baal Shem Tov, who replied satisfactorily, but the rabbi was suspicious. He thought that in his absence the Baal Shem Tov might have reviewed the text with someone more scholarly. He demanded another test.
"Again the Baal Shem Tov submitted to the test, and this time the rabbi was satisfied. The advice he sought was in regard to his salary; he needed more money. The Baal Shem Tov at once requested the raise on the rabbi's behalf and it was given."
The wealthy chasid stopped in his narrative for a minute. "From this story we see the greatness of the Baal Shem Tov. He was not insulted by the rabbi's tests, on the contrary, he was eager to do him some favor. But, in your case, it struck me as very different. I have heard that when you visited Lemberg, the rabbi's son insulted you. He died soon after, and you are in prison. Could you perhaps explain the difference to me?"
The Ruzhiner Rebbe replied: "When I travelled to Lemberg I passed through many villages and towns, and through all my travels I was accorded the greatest respect. By the time I reached Lemberg a great crowd of people awaited me.
"When the son of the rabbi of Lemberg saw that I was given such a great honor, he was angered, since he felt it belittled his father. He told the owners of the hotel where I was staying to prohibit me from forming a minyan to pray. So that even though it was the Shavuot holiday, and I had brought my own Torah scroll, I was unable to pray with a minyan. Nevertheless, I refused to take offense.
"Before my departure, my chasidim implored me to go to visit the rabbi. I lit my pipe and went to his home, but as I approached, the rabbi's son stopped me, saying, 'How dare you come to my father while smoking!' My chasidim tried to defend me, but the son was furious. He must have brought the tragedy on himself.
"As for my imprisonment, I will explain it to you, and this will be a sign to my mother.
"Before my wife became pregnant with my youngest son, I learned that a unique soul was to descend to earth. It had waited over 800 years to come down and would have a special mission. However, Heaven had decreed that the person who would father this soul would have to spend some time in jail. I went to my mother to ask her advice. She answered me directly, 'What does a father not do for his children?' And that is why I am here."
The chasid returned to Reb Yisroel's mother and recounted the conversation.
Shortly after Reb Meir of Premishlan helped Reb Yisroel escape. He hired a smuggler to bring Reb Yisroel over the Russian-Austrian border, promising him, "When you get to the river, you must take our rabbi on your shoulders. I you succeed, I guarantee you a place in the world-to-come."
Reb Yisroel eventually settled in the town of Sadigura.
The giving of the Torah is likened to a marriage because, like a marriage, the objective of Torah is to create a union: between G-d and the Jewish people, physical and spiritual, body and soul, and the union of all of the world's inhabitants to serve G-d as one. This marriage will only be complete with our final Redemption from exile. The marriage between G-d and Israel that occurred at Sinai is the betrothal stage of our relationship. The giving of the Torah was akin to the giving of the ring at a wedding. That event connects us to our spouse but does not represent the ultimate union. The final stage of the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people, and all the ensuing forms of unity that our marriage will generate, will take place imminently with the final Redemption.
(Rabbi Heschel Greenberg)