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What do you do when stuck in traffic? Listen to music, perhaps. Or maybe you listen to "talk radio." (Politics, left or right. Advice. All-news. All-sports.) Maybe you talk on the cell-phone. (Conducting business, making plans, talking to the kids, calling ahead, ordering, reporting the breakdown that's got traffic backed up just before the exit in front of you, which you can't get to anyway because you're in the far left lane.) Or maybe you just sit there, daydreaming at first, but slowly getting more and more frustrated, then more and more angry.
What about when you're stuck in a doctor's office? (Actually, the question applies to any office we're stuck in - government, business, legal - but surely the most notorious office to be stuck in is a doctor's.) Do you read the magazines (out-of-date, already read, too technical, too popular, boring subjects - and always missing the last page of the story)? Do you watch the fish in the aquarium? Or do you try to fall asleep (usually half-eavesdropping on the three conversations around you)?
What do you do when stuck in a line? (You knew that one was coming.) Do you bring a book wherever you go, just in case (standing in line at the bank, at the check-out, at the service desk, for a driver's license and of course at the post office)? Do you bring an ipod, ipad, iphone? Do you stare around the room, counting this (How many ceiling tiles) or that (How many phone calls will the clerk take before taking a customer?) to pass the time? Do you try talking to the person ahead of you, behind you or last in line? Or do you stand there, daydreaming at first, but slowly getting more and more frustrated, then more and more angry that after each customer the clerk disappears for five minutes. Poof.
We spend a lot of time waiting, a lot of time put on hold (now don't get me started about phone calls), a lot of time stuck in idle - like a car with the engine on but the gears disengaged. The minutes come, the minutes go, the minutes pass.
Sometimes we use them well, sometimes not. But idle time need not be futile time, empty time - or even business time. There's a way to make idle time Jewish time.
Read a chapter of Psalms. They're short. They're translated. And every verse reverberates throughout the spiritual realms.
Read a mishna or two. They've also been translated. With commentary. When do we start saying Shema in the evening? Who is wise? If two people find a tallit, both grab it and claim they found it, who gets it? How does one greet another person?
Read a Jewish law from the Mishneh Torah. Maimonides makes scholars of us all.
Read a bit of Tanya. Download an app onto your phone. Learn about your two souls, what it means to love your fellow Jew as yourself, how to fight laziness or depression. Discover the anatomy of the soul.
Call it one minute Judaism. Or, Judasim To Go.
The Torah portion we read this week, Bo, contains the commandments not to eat chametz (leaven) and to eat matzot on Passover. These Biblical obligations apply on Passover in our times as well.
How are chametz and matza different? Both contain flour and water, so what makes matza unique? What can we learn from the mitzva to eat matza on Passover and the prohibition against eating chametz?
Chametz is dough that was allowed to rise and grow in bulk. Matza is dough that is thin and flat; even after it is baked it remains the same height as before.
Chametz is symbolic of pride and elevation, of arrogance and an inflated sense of self. It is symbolic of a person who considers himself superior to everyone else around him.
Matza, by contrast, is symbolic of humility and self-abnegation. Its flat dough symbolizes a person who is completely nullified to others - the exact opposite of chametz.
The Hebrew letters of the words chametz (ç chet, î mem, ö tzadik) and matza (î mem, ö tzadik, ä hei) are almost identical. The only difference between them is one letter (i.e., one word contains a chet, the other a hei). Furthermore, the chet and the hei are almost the same shape; both are formed with three lines and have an opening at the bottom.
This opening at the bottom alludes to the verse in the Torah "sin lies at the opening" - the space through which sin can intrude upon an individual and cause him to transgress.
Here we see the important distinction between chametz and matza: The chet in chametz is completely closed at the top. The sin that has entered cannot escape; it remains inside and can't get out. The person who has committed a sin finds it difficult to let go, to abandon his wrongdoing and distance himself from transgression.
The hei in matza, however, has a small opening at the top - the opening through which a person can repent and return to G-d. Yes, it's only a small opening, but all that is necessary is one small move in the right direction, and G-d accepts our repentance and helps us return.
Chametz is symbolic of a person swollen by his own self-importance. If he sins it is very difficult for him to admit having made a mistake. He will always find excuses to justify his actions. A person like this is trapped within the "chet" and cannot find his way out.
Matza, on the other hand, alludes to a person who is modest and humble. If he sins, he doesn't try to justify what he's done, but is immediately sorry and regretful. His heart is broken, and he is aroused to repentance. Through the tiny opening in the hei he draws nearer to G-d; he corrects his behavior and returns to Him with a full heart.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1
By Rabbi Shmully Hecht
This past summer I was asked to officiate at the wedding of a young man who is a fighter pilot and commands one of Israel's elite F16 squadrons. For security purposes I would rather not mention his name.
I met this man last year at Yale and we have since become personal friends. Along with his lovely wife we have spent many hundreds of hours together in meaningful dialogue, Torah study, dinners in our home and Jewish celebrations at the institutions we are involved with at Yale.
At his wedding in Israel I met his parents, both in their 70s, and both Holocaust survivors. While sitting and conversing at the wedding his dad mentioned that he was so happy his son had met me at Yale and that we had become friends.
Although the family didn't consider themselves by any means observant, he mentioned that he had already had a long relationship with Chabad.
This connection was solely by virtue of having carried a picture of the Rebbe in his wallet for many years. He carried the photo despite never having actually met the Rebbe, didn't believe in miracles, was by no means observant, and made sure to remind me that the sound of the Israeli Airforce over the skies of Israel were the guarantee that the Nazis had lost and the Jewish people were destined to survive.
I asked him why a self proclaimed non-believer would carry around a photo of a holy and righteous man and what value this could possibly have. He told me that he had been in the hospital many years back for a procedure that was extremely risky and the doctors were not sure if he would survive.
Interestingly, when he woke up from the surgery he found a photo of the Rebbe on his bed that seemingly someone had left for him. He had no idea nor did he ever find out who that person may have been.
While recovering from surgery he looked at the photo and assumed his survival was somewhat connected to this holy man, ultimately realizing it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and despite not knowing who had left it, he put it in his pocket and never left home without it since.
Sitting at the wedding he then took the picture of the Rebbe out of his pocket and showed it to me and then the groom as he explained that he had never told anyone, including his children, the story and that he carried this photo with him every day.
A few weeks ago, the young man emailed me that his father's wallet was misplaced and asked me to send him another photo to forward to his dad. I told him that I was returning to Israel for yet another wedding and it would be my honor to visit his father again and personally give him a photo of the Rebbe.
On the last day of my trip, I went to this man's house to visit him and deliver the photo of the Rebbe. I knew this would be a great opportunity to ask him to do a mitzva (commandment) and while sitting in his living room I started a conversation about putting on Tefilin.
We talked for quite a while and I listened to him explain that he was a historical, philosophical, intellectual, Jew but by no means a religious or observant one and had no reason or intent in performing a religious ritual with me.
I then asked him to repeat the story of the Rebbe's picture and challenged his agnosticism and refusal to put on Tefilin by virtue of his need to have a photo of the Rebbe in his wallet.
But then he told me that the story in the hospital actually happened three times. Yes, three times he had been at the hospital for serious procedures and each time someone had left a photo of the Rebbe at his bed. And so he felt compelled to get the new photo. He then told me that there was one other reason he could not put on Tefilin with me.
While holding back his tears this distinguished looking man with silver white hair began to speak in a broken voice and old European Yiddish accent. He leaned back on his couch and gazed at the ceiling as my brother sitting to my right, the taxi driver to my left and his wife across the coffee table all leaned forward to listen to why he had no reason to pray to G-d. And then he said.
On the eve of Yom Kippur 1973, he had gone to shul (synagogue) in Tel Aviv for Kol Nidrei. The rabbi got up at the pulpit and declared that there was going to be a terrible war the following day and that everyone should prepare. He was sitting in the synagogue that Yom Kippur eve with three friends, each of whom had an only child, all of whom were young men. And then he stared into my eyes and softly whispered that those three sons never came back from the battlefield.
I felt the power of this amazing man, amazing father, amazing Jew, challenge me with the type of question we often have no answers for. But then I said: "Reb Yid, when I went to the store on Friday to buy you the one picture of the Rebbe you asked your son to have me buy, I couldn't decide which one you would like, so I actually bought you three. G-d saved you three times and these three young men gave their lives for Am Yisrael." I put my hand into the bag and showed him the three photos. He rolled up his sleeve. We put on Tefilin. He prayed. The taxi driver rolled up his sleeve, put on Tefilin and he prayed. We all cried and hugged and then we said goodbye.
Rabbi Shmully Hecht is the founder of the Eliezer Society at Yale and Chabad at Yale
Three new synagogues were dedicated in Moscow, Russia, this past month signaling the continued exponential growth of the Russian Jewish community. The locations of the synagogues are 1) in the Butirski Prison in Central Moscow, in the city's Lubertzi neighborhood, in the Veikovski neighborhood. The new synagogues bring to a total 30 synagogues under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavich in Moscow.
New Torah Scroll
A new Torah scroll was completed and welcomed into the Chabad House Bowery in New York City. Chabad House Bowery serves students at NYU and neighboring schools.
Rabbi Yisrael and Devorah Leah Pinson are opening Chabad of Downtown Detroit.
Continued from previous issue, from a letter dated
5 Shevat, 5736 (1976)
Now a word about my Ayeka [lit. "where are you" in accomplishing your life's mission], to which you refer at the end of your letter. Certainly it includes all that has been said above, and more. I wonder what were the "practical" results of our meeting and discussion, with you and your wife, when I was not only a listener but also a speaker. My Ayeka makes me ponder to what extent were my words effective - not in terms of pleasant recollections, but in terms of maase eikar [the essential thing is the practice of commandments]. I will not dwell on this point, not out of any apprehension that it may embarrass you, but because there is no need to elaborate on it to you.
But I do wish to mention another pertinent point, though I may have mentioned it in the course of our conversation. I have in mind the matter of devarim biteilim, "useless words," which, like all expressions of our Sages, is a precise and meaningful term. Whenever we come across this term in Halalcha [Jewish Law], and even more so in Pnimius haTorah [the inner aspects of Torah], it is of course in a rather negative and reprehensible sense, and in some respects it has to do with kedushas haloshon, the sanctity of language. At first glance, a more appropriate expression would seem to be devarim asurim, "forbidden words," or devarim miusim, "obscene words," or some similar term as "unbecoming language," and the like. But this is precisely where the meaning of devarim biteilim comes in, namely, that it refers not to the quality of the word, but to their effect, whether they are useful or useless. One may speak good words, even quoting words of Torah, but if they do not impress the listener and do not affect him in terms of maase eikar, the deed is primary, then they are devarim biteilim. The blame must be placed on the speaker, since we have the rule that "words coming from the heart penetrate the heart and are eventually effective."
I trust that this letter finds you and your family in good health. If you should think it worthwhile to convey some points of my letter to your wife, I would be gratified, of course.
P.S. After writing the above, I now just received your telephone message about the medical treatment suggested by your doctors and your request for my advice.
It is well known that in a case of ulcer a very important factor is peace of mind; and this is mainly up to the patient. I therefore suggest that you should strengthen your Bitochon (real trust) in G-d, the Healer of All Flesh Who Works Wondrously. And the way to do it is by reviewing appropriate texts on this subject, such as for example, Shaar Habitochon in Ibn Pakuda's Duties of the Heart, and the like, and reflect deeply on this subject.
In addition, it is also well known that a suitable diet is helpful in such a condition, and I believe helpful in all cases, the difference being only in degree.
Hence, inasmuch as the condition has been with you for some time, I suggest that you should first give a try to the above two remedies and see to what extent they can relieve the situation.
In any case, the auspicious month of Adar is only three weeks away, and in the meantime you can observe the results of the two measures suggested above.
To ease your anxiety sooner, this letter is being dispatched by S. D. [special delivery]
Incidentally, the content of the above letter, though dictated before your telephone message, may well be the "Pre-emptive cure." For everything is by Hashgocho Protis [Divine providence], and among human beings - even non-Jews - there is something that is called "Premonition," or, what our Sages describe as tchb vn gsh tku tchb ["He prophecized without realizing it."]
Mitzrayim (Egypt) expresses constriction, limitation. The spiritual Egyptian exile is the animal soul's restricting and concealing the G-dly soul so severely that the G-dly soul is compressed to the degree that it is diminished and obscured. "Exodus from Egypt" is the removal of the constriction and bounds; i.e. the intellect in the brain illuminates the heart, bringing about fine character traits translated into actual practice.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion Bo, describing the Jewish people's redemption from Egypt.
In many places it is explained that the first exile of the Jewish people in Egypt, and their subsequent redemption, is the prototype of each future exile and the ultimate redemption which we avidly await, may it come now.
Just as in those days, we were brought out of Egypt with wonders and miracles, so too, when we merit to witness the Final Redemption, will we witness events and wondrous happenings that are miraculous beyond imagination.
But wait. Three times each day, in the special Amida prayer, we thank G-d for His miracles that occur every day and His wonders and kindnesses that occur each moment.
In truth, we don't need much of an imagination to realize that miracles and wonders do happen to each one of us, every moment of every day. Now more than ever, we need only open our eyes, open our hearts, open our minds, and we will see that everything around us is truly miraculous, especially that which we've come to take for granted.
A few cells are miraculously coded to grow into a baby. Scientific breakthroughs allow billions to live without the fear of diseases which only a century ago ravaged entire communities. We can fly anywhere in the world, not necessarily on the wings of eagles but in the comfort and relative safety of metal birds.
What seemed far-fetched and impossible, something which could only be termed miraculous a few generations ago, has become commonplace. But because many things have become mundane and routine they are no less wondrous. Let's all open our eyes and see the miracles and wonders happening all around us. Perhaps through this very special kind of exercise we will merit to see the greatest miracle of all - the revelation of Moshiach.
And let them ask every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor...and G-d gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians (Ex. 11:2-3)
When Jews are helpful to one another - offering assistance in times of need, acting kindly and loaning things to each other - G-d grants them favor even in the eyes of their enemies, and showers them with abundance and good fortune.
Draw out and take for yourselves lambs...and kill the Passover sacrifice (Ex. 12:21)
The Children of Israel were commanded to purchase these lambs for the Passover sacrifice from the Egyptians. Because the Egyptians worshipped the lamb as a deity, it was disqualified for use as an offering. Buying it from them, however, would remove this taint and make it permissible, according to the law: "An object of idolatry sold by a non-Jew nullifies its status."
(The Rebbe of Sochotshov)
Remember this day, on which you went out from Egypt (Ex. 13:3)
Why is the Exodus from Egypt so central to Judaism, considering that the Jewish people were later subjugated to other nations at other times in history? The answer is that the Exodus forever changed the nature of the Jew's soul. By virtue of the Exodus, every Jew became "free" on the ultimate, objective level, making it impossible to enslave his essence.
(The Maharal of Prague)
The great scholar Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshutz (1695-1764) was known far and wide for his enormous erudition and remarkably sharp wit. The governor of the city of Metz took great pleasure in testing the rabbi's intellect. He would make a decree against the Jewish residents, knowing full well that Rabbi Eibeshutz would dash to his palace to intercede for his brethren. Then, the governor would pose some difficult puzzle or riddle to attempt to stump the great scholar. As history records it, fortunately, Rabbi Eibeshutz always succeeded in besting his foe and having the evil decree nullified.
Once the governor issued a decree proclaiming that the Jews of Metz would be given a deadline by which they would all be required to submit to baptism. If they refused, which he knew they would, they would be forced from their homes into exile. The governor also knew from his past experience that Rabbi Eibeshutz would present himself at the governor's palace in order to plead for his people. Then, he would snare the rabbi in his plot, for this time, the rabbi would surely fail.
The Jews of Metz were thrown into turmoil. None would consider conversion, but what were they to do, where could they turn? Rabbi Eibeshutz immediately went to the governor. "Your excellency," he began, "how can you punish an entire community of innocent souls. I beg of you not to inflict this terrible suffering upon innocent women and babies."
A cold smile passed across the governor's face. "On the contrary, my dear rabbi, I am merely helping to fulfill a prophecy which is stated in scripture: 'A great trouble will ensue, so terrible as never before experienced and never to be repeated again.' This passage is interpreted to refer to the Jews. I consider it my great privilege to help bring it about."
Now came the moment the governor had waited for with such delight. With suppressed glee he turned to Rabbi Eibeshutz and continued: "But, my dear friend, I will give you the opportunity of nullifying my decree."
"And how may I do that," the rabbi asked.
"All you have to do is to answer a few questions which I will pose to you. Are you agreeable to this arrangement?" asked the governor.
"Yes, what are the questions?"
"First, tell me immediately and without hesitation how many letters there are in the [Hebrew] sentence I just quoted to you?"
With not even a pause, Rabbi Eibeshutz replied, "There are the same number as the years of your life, 60."
The governor was astounded, but not deterred. He continued with his next question: "Now, how many words did the same sentence contain?"
The rabbi answered with the same swiftness, "There are 17 words - the same as in our famous saying, 'The people of Israel lives forever - Am Yisrael Chai L'Olmai Ad.' "
The governor couldn't contain his admiration. "Wonderful! Now, tell me how many Jews live in Metz and its surrounding areas?"
Again Rabbi Eibeshutz didn't hesitate: "There are 45,760 Jews in the city of Metz and all of its suburbs, Your Excellency."
The governor was momentarily thrown off guard by the rabbi's brilliant answers. But he soon regained his bearings and threw out the last, and impossible demand. "I want you to write 'Israel lives forever' 45,760 times, on a parchment no larger than the ones you use for your mezuza scrolls." This time he knew he had won and he smirked with satisfaction.
Rabbi Eibeshutz paled when he heard this absurd and impossible order. "How long do I have to fulfill your command," he asked.
"I give you one hour," was the triumphant reply. "And remember that the fate of your unfortunate brethren is in your hands."
Rabbi Eibeshutz disappeared, but when one hour had elapsed he presented himself at the governor's palace.
"Your Honor, I have in my hand a parchment with the dimensions of 2" by 4". On it is written an anagram with the solution to your puzzle. My drawing contains 15 Hebrew letters across and 19 letters down."
The governor couldn't believe his ears. He reached out his hand to take the parchment from Rabbi Eibeshutz. As he stared at it, uncomprehending, the rabbi continued to explain:
"When you read this you will see the words, 'Am Yisroel Chai L'Olmai Ad,' written in every direction. It is spelled out 45,760 different ways."
The governor was too shocked to reply, and the rabbi continued. "I request of Your Honor to cancel the decree pending your deciphering this code, since it may take you some time to work it out."
The governor agreed. It is said that the governor worked at Rabbi Eibeshutz's anagram a full year before he was able to decipher all the combinations of words. When he completed his study of it, the governor summoned the rabbi to his palace. He embraced the scholar and said, "I can truly see that your G-d has imparted His wisdom to his followers." The governor no longer tormented the Jews of his city and until the end of his life held Rabbi Eibeshutz in the highest esteem.
In this week's portion we read: "There was light in their dwellings of all the Children of Israel" (Ex. 10:23) This unique light not only illuminated their own homes, but accompanied the Jews wherever they went - even when visiting their neighboring Egyptians. Exile is a time of spiritual darkness that intensifies the closer we get to Moshiach's revelation. Nonetheless, just as our ancestors enjoyed "light in their dwellings" even before their redemption from exile, so too does every Jew possess an aura of holiness now, just prior to the Final Redemption, which accompanies him wherever he goes.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 5751-1991)