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We are barely surprised any more when we walk down the street and see a person walking towards us, wildy gesticulating and shouting, or pointing and wagging his finger in the air to make a point. "Oh of course! He's on his phone!"
And when we see a friend walk straight past us, eyes down, fingers clicking away, we know, "She's texting or checking her messages." Everywhere we go, at any time of day or night, people stay connected with family, friends and work via phone, Facebook, texting, Twitter, an electronic universe.
Mitzvot (commandments), are the means by which we are constantly connecting with G-d. They are the Divine precepts that guide and govern every aspect of a Jew's life from the moment of his birth to his last breath. In fact, the word mitzva itself has two meanings: "commandment" and "connection."
And at any time of day or night, we can stay connected with G-d via mitzvot.
By commanding us the mitzvot, G-d gave us the means to connect with Him through a physical act. The hand putting a few coins in a charity box, the mind thinking Torah thoughts, the lips curved into a smile to greet another person, the voice soaring in prayer, the stomach digesting matza on Passover, the ears hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, all become instruments to connect us with G-d. So there are mitzvot for each limb, organ and faculty of a person, mitzvot governing every aspect of a person's life, so that no part of him remains uninvolved in his relationship with his Creator.
Each time we do a mitzva we connect with G-d. Sometimes, the connection is so natural that we don't even notice it. At other times we feel the connection of a mitzva - tears streaming forth in a moment of prayer; an intangible peace as the Shabbat candles are lit; the slow exhale as tefilin straps are unwound.
But what about when there is no connection? When we're in a low or no service area, or our battery went dead, or when we're in a place (oh my!) that states "No cell phones permitted." (Or Shabbat when electronic devices may not be used.)
Our family, friends and office can't get in touch with us then. But G-d still can. Because we can never truly disconnect from G-d. "A Jew neither wants to nor can be disconnected from G-d," taught Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism. Even if we think the connection is broken or that we got disconnected, we're still connected with G-d and He's still connected with us. Furthermore, we can still communicate with Him and vice versa. Because, in truth, the service never goes down.
Maybe it's a wrong number or something has affected the microwaves. But the lack of connection is never permanent.
G-d can and does communicate with us. We need only perk up our ears and listen, recharge the battery or be patient until we reconnect.
In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, Moses looks back upon the Jewish people's 40 years in the desert, and mentions twice the manna they ate for sustenance. Both times, Moses seems to imply that eating the manna was somehow distressing: "And He afflicted you and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna"; "[He] fed you in the wilderness with manna...that He might afflict you."
In fact, the Children of Israel complained bitterly over having to eat it. "But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes." "Our soul loathes this light bread."
At first glance their complaint is surprising, as the Torah describes the manna as being delicious - "and its taste was like wafers made with honey." Our Sages comment further that the G-dly manna was unique in that the person eating it experienced whatever flavor he wished. Furthermore, the manna was completely digested, having no waste. How then could such a wonderful food be perceived as "torment"?
However, the Talmud explains that it was precisely these qualities that left the Jews with a sense of hunger. It was hard to get used to this "bread from the heavens" that had no waste and could taste like anything in the world. The Jews wanted regular bread, "bread from the earth." They longed for food that looked like what it was.
But the truth is that the Jews' resentment was motivated by the Evil Inclination. At first, the Evil Inclination draws a person into small sins, slowly working its way to more serious ones. So it was with the Children of Israel: They started by complaining about the manna, then progressed to "crying among their families," implying transgressions in the area of family life.
The dynamics of the Evil Inclination never change, and even today, the Evil Inclination still chafes against "bread from the heavens." Symbolically, "bread from the heavens" stands for Torah and G-dly wisdom, while "bread from the earth" is secular, worldly knowledge. The Evil Inclination tries to make the Jew dissatisfied with his "bread from the heavens," and attempts to convince him that a steady diet of Torah will leave him hungry. "The Torah is endless," it whispers in his ear. "You can never learn it all; the more you'll learn, the more you'll see how infinite it is. Why not turn your mind to worldly matters? At least you'll get a feeling of fullness and satisfaction."
On an even finer level, the Evil Inclination tries to dissuade a Jew from studying Chasidut, the innermost part of Torah, which is also likened to "bread from the heavens." "Bread from the earth," the revealed part of Torah, is enough, it claims.
But the truth is the opposite. Because the Jew's essence is spiritual, he can never be satiated by worldly matters. Only Torah, and the innermost part of it, can make the soul feel full, for it is through Torah that the Jew connects to the Infinite.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4
In all my time working at the Regency Assisted Living home in Glen Cove, New York, I never heard Maria speak. She just walked around the facility, with a sad look on her face, pushing her walker.
One day I saw her sitting alone next to the black piano at the edge of the dining room and decided now was my chance to reach out to her. So I sat down next to her and asked her how she was doing.
"I had a very tough life," she said. "I am from Poland. When I was a girl it was lovely. But then the Nazis came. They lined up my family - 39 in a row - and opened fire. They shot them all, one by one and threw their bodies in a ditch. I was shot too but the bullet grazed my head." As she told me this she lifted up her hair, pointing to a faint scar on her forehead. She let her hair down and continued.
"I played dead. When the Nazis left I ran and hid in the woods. Eventually, I made it to Russia where I became a cook in the army. Then I went to Israel and after that to America. Thank you for listening."
With that she got up, pushed her walker into the dining room and sat down at a table for dinner.
Since then, whenever I saw Maria I made sure to ask her how she was doing. She always answered me with a shrug of her shoulders and a frown, and continued on her way.
This went on for weeks until Chanuka arrived. We set up rows of chairs in the lobby for everyone to participate in the menorah lighting. Seniors came pushing walkers and canes. Some were pushed by their aides in wheelchairs. Others were fortunate enough to walk in on their own.
We all waited for sunset then I lit the shamash. I said the three blessings and lit one candle for the first night of Chanuka. I was all set to talk about the miracle of Chanuka when something miraculous unfolded right in front of my eyes.
I noticed Maria in the front row. She was no longer frowning. In fact it was just the opposite. A smile stretched across her face from ear to ear. Her eyes were closed and she was bobbing her head from side to side like a little school girl and singing, "Sivion, Sov, Sov, Sov. Chanuka Hu Chag Tov... "
And then there was Chana. She also had a reawakening of sorts at the Regency. She was 106 years old then (she should live and be well)!
One day I sat next to her on the living room couch. She looked at me and counted the buttons on her shirt. "One, two, three. I've got three buttons. You see, one, two, three. Three buttons. Bingo!"
Later on that day we did our weekly Friday afternoon Shabbat service, held in the bingo room. At the service, we would sing Shabbat songs with the residents and help a resident light the Shabbat candles. I decided to bring the Shabbat candles over to Chana for her to light this week.
I placed the Shabbat candles in front of her and began saying the blessing over lighting the candles with her, assuming she either didn't know the blessing or if she once did she surely had forgotten it by now. Boy was I wrong. As soon as I started to say the blessing, as if on cue, Chana whizzed through the entire blessing on her own. She remembered the blessing on the Shabbat candles like a pro.
Then there was Herbert. He was in his mid 80s. I met him when he was sitting on a chair in the living room. I sat next to him and asked how he was doing.
"Fine," he said. "How are you?"
"Where are you from," he asked me?
"I'm from Glen Cove."
"That's nice," he said.
"Where are you from," I asked him?
"I'm from Brooklyn. Where are you from?"
I was sure I already answered that question a few seconds ago but I answered him a second time anyhow, in case he didn't hear me the first time.
"Glen Cove," I said.
"That's nice," he said.
"Where are you from?" he asked me again for the third time.
I answered again and then I wished him a good evening.
I saw him the next day sitting with his daughter. When Herbert went to the bathroom I mentioned my encounter with her father yesterday.
"Let me explain," she said. "My father used to be a very active man. He used to play 18 holes of golf on a Sunday. Everything was fine. Then one day he was driving on a business trip and lost control of his car. His car spun over three or four times, and landed upside down. He survived the accident, thank G-d, but he no longer has any short-term memory. Sorry for the confusion."
The next day I decided to help Herbert put on tefilin. I spoke with the non-Jewish aide who takes care of him. I told her that tefilin is a very important mitzva for a Jewish man to do and I want to do it with Herbert.
"That would be great," she said.
So that afternoon I offered to help Herbert put on tefilin and we went into an empty conference room in the Regency.
"Did you ever do this before," I asked him?
"Sure," he said.
I rolled up his sleeve and placed the tefilin box on his arm and said the blessing over the tefilin with him. Then I wound the black strap around his arm and hand and placed the other tefilin box on his head.
"Now we'll say "Shema" together, Herbert. Put your right hand over your eyes and say, She-..."
Just like Chana, Herbert continued saying the Shema himself, recalling the holy words stored deep inside, imprinted so strongly in his heart and mind that no loss of memory could extinguish them.
I continued helping Herbert put on tefilin after that. One day something interesting happened. I helped Herbert put on the tefilin as usual but before we had a chance to say the prayers the fire alarm went off. I helped Herbert to his walker while the tefilin remained strapped around his arm and his head.
We walked outside. The workers who usually looked at Herbert with pity now seemed to have a new-found respect for him. It was a fulfillment of the Talmudic statement that whoever dons tefilin on his head causes the nations of the world to fear him.
These are just a few of the many stories from my time at the Regency showing that no amount of aging, memory loss or persecution can extinguish the Jewish soul's love and connection to the Alm-ghty.
(c) 2014 Yosef Geller. Contact Yosef at email@example.com
Jewish refugees from Lugansk, Ukraine, and surrounding towns are being hosted by the Jewish community of Zhitomer in a family refugee camp organized by Chabad-Lubavitch of Lugansk.
Friendship Circle Conference
A two-day international conference for directors and staff who run the Friendship Circle, a Chabad-Lubavitch network of 87 independently operated programming organizations worldwide for children and teens with special needs and their families, took place this summer in Livingston, New Jersey. Participants relayed insight into the Lubavitcher Rebbe's outlook on how to include children with special needs in communal life.
This letter was written to sculptor [Jacques] Chayim Yaakov Lipschitz
28th of Iyar, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to confirm receipt of your letter in which you refer to the issue of the proposed "Sculpture Park" in Jerusalem. I must confess that I was surprised to note your attitude toward this matter, and I trust that you will not take it amiss my objections. I believe you have not been fully informed on this subject.
The opposition to this project does not emanate from any particular party only, but is widespread indeed. Even non-religious circles are opposed to it. Unfortunately we live in such a materialistic world that material considerations prevail over others, so that contrary points of view are hushed up in the press.
A "Sculpture Park" in Jerusalem is quite incongruous with the character of the Holy City, which has a tradition of holiness, not only for Jews but also for gentiles, for a period of the past 4000 years. It has always been the symbol of monotheism, free from graven images in any shape or form. You surely know, as anyone else, how much blood was shed by the Jews for the preservation of this sacred status of the city when the Romans tried to make it Aelia Capitolina. Thus, even from the point of view of esthetics and art, a public display of this kind would not only be in bad taste, but a real dissonance.
I will cite the opinions of some prominent Jews on this project. These are just a few of many similar expressions, and I bring only these as no one can accuse them of "religious bias."
These opinions were excerpted from interviews published in the weekly Panim el Panim, No. 54 (16th of Iyar, 5720 ):
The poet Nathan Zach:
Whether we like it or not, Jerusalem serves for very many people as an active historic symbol, which is still valid today. The basic principle of monotheism, including the ban on the graven and molten image, has in the course of generations been woven into this symbol... It is very characteristic that we who at every opportunity bring to the headlines of the press new archeological finds.. shut ourselves up behind our "secularism" when we are called upon to display a little respect for our past...
(Nathan Zach, who nicknamed the project "Terah's Park" (an allusion to the idolatry of Terah, Abraham's father), cites the young sculptor Yehiel Shemi and others who could certainly not be called "reactionaries" who are equally opposed to the project.)
Gershon Jack, an educational authority, explains his opposition as follows:
We bring up our children to feel proud of our people and its uniqueness of tradition. These are values which have been formed over thousands of years of our history. We cannot uproot ourselves from it all. One of the centers of our national sensitivity is Jerusalem. How can we desecrate it?
A person like me, generally speaking, does not consider sculpture as a forbidden art. However, there are two compelling reasons why we should oppose the Sculpture Park in Jerusalem: a) With all our heretical views, Jerusalem is a unique city. As for me, whenever I go up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, I am overcome with emotion and never cease thinking: I am in Jerusalem! For three thousand years of its history, Jerusalem has established its peculiar attitude toward the graven image. Many Jews died, many were the rebellions and much blood was shed, all because of graven images. We must not destroy this attitude. b) A closed museum might be understood; even then - no sculptures of a christological character. But the issue is a public Sculpture Garden - to make Jerusalem a world center for sculpture. This is a violent contradiction to the whole character of Jerusalem.... Moreover, we are only a part of our Jewish people.. a very substantial part, who see a transgression in this. We have a responsibility to those Jews also. The would-be benefactor should be told that not all gifts can be accepted unconditionally!
continued in next issue
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
23 Menachem Av
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe writes: In the winter of 1891-2, when my father taught me in the book of Tanya, "The second soul in Israel is actually part of G-d above,"he explained that the connotations of the words "above" and "actually" are contradictory. "Above" indicates the most spiritual of spiritual levels, while "actually" describes the most material of material things. He explained that this is the unique quality of the "second soul," that though it is the epitome of the spiritual it has an effect upon the most material of materiality.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is the 20th of Av, the yartzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson.
Previously, in a gathering on Shabbat that coincided with Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's yartzeit, the Rebbe spoke about the significance of his father's yartzeit and specifically of it occurring on Shabbat.
The Rebbe quoted the Talmudic saying that "The death of the righteous is compared to the burning of the House of G-d." The Rebbe then went on to explain that the true meaning of this statement is that the tragedy of a righteous person's passing is, like the destruction of the Holy Temple, a descent that must ultimately bring us closer to the building of the Third Holy Temple.
The Rebbe then went on to explain that on this Shabbat there are many reasons to be joyous. It is the Shabbat following Shabbat Nachamu - the Shabbat when we are doubly consoled for the destruction of the two Holy Temples. That this Shabbat follows the 15th of Av (known as a very joyous day in the Jewish calendar) means that it brings completion to the day. In addition, that it is the 20th of Av, a day that will ultimately bring us closer to the building of the Third Holy Temple is also a reason to be joyous.
The Rebbe also spoke about the importance of permeating all of our actions with joy, thus hastening the promised redemption:
"This joy, consolation and salvation must all be expressed in a revealed way and in actuality.... Our action in all areas of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) will speed the realization of the promised redemption.... the attitude of joy should also permeate and encompass all of these good actions, and this will speed the transition of the day of mourning into a day of rejoicing."
May this take place immediately, NOW!
And your eye be evil against your needy brother (Deut. 15:9)
If you look at your poor fellow Jew with an evil eye, searching for defects and sins in him in order to explain your own stinginess and unwillingness to help, then "he shall cry out to G-d against you, and it shall be a sin in you"- G-d will regard you accordingly, searching for your even graver transgressions and defects.
(Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsberg)
The blessing, if you will listen to the commandments of G-d (Deut. 11:27)
Being able to listen to G-d's commandments is in itself a blessing. You should be able to hear and absorb G-d's words in your very soul.
(Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch)
But be strong not to eat the blood...in order that He do good for you, and for your children after you. (Deut. 12:23-25)
The sages learn from this that if G-d specifies a reward for refraining from eating blood, a thing which a person has no desire for because it is disgusting, how much greater a reward is there for refraining from that which one desires but is not permitted.
Take tithes, you shall take tithes (Deut. 14:22)
In Hebrew this verse is written, "Aser t'aser." Our Sages explain it can also be read, "Aser sheh-t'ta-asher - give a tenth so that you will become rich." Concerning other commandments, we are told not to perform them in anticipation of the reward. However, for the mitzva of charity (specifically the required amount of one tenth of one's earnings) the Torah itself tells us of the reward we will receive in this world - riches.
(Milei D'Chasiduta on Pirkei Avot)
For a long time the Soviet government had been carefully scrutinizing the actions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Chief Rabbi of the city of Yeketerinaslav (and the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). A network of spies had infiltrated his synagogue and was observing his every step. Indeed, a thick dossier of his "crimes" had already been gathered.
The truth is that it wasn't all that difficult to substantiate evidence of the Rav's defiance. Nonetheless, by dint of his courage and ingenuity, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had so far succeeded in avoiding their traps.
Take, for example, the time the government decided to conduct a census in which all Soviet citizens were asked if they believed in G-d. Because of the great danger involved in responding truthfully, many Jews, even observant ones, had planned on answering in the negative.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, however, would not hear of such a thing, and ran from one synagogue to the next begging people not to deny the G-d of their fathers. As a result of his campaign he was summoned to appear before the authorities.
"What is there to find fault with?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered innocently. "When I learned that some Jews were intending to lie, I merely did my job as a Soviet citizen and urged them to tell the truth."
The day came when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was invited to appear in court on charges of conducting Jewish activities in his home. As this was strictly against the law, if he were found guilty, the punishment was potentially severe.
The Rav's apprehension only grew when he saw the two main witnesses for the prosecution. The first was the director of the housing unit in which he lived, a young Jew who was a sworn Communist. Appointed by the authorities to keep track of the residents' comings and goings, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak knew that he was the housing director's primary focus. The other witness was his next-door neighbor, a woman whose husband was the regional head of the Communist Party in charge of transportation.
In truth, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had much to fear from these two witnesses. And recent events had given him even more cause for worry.
Not long ago a young Jewish couple, both high-ranking government employees, had suddenly appeared on his doorstep in the middle of the night and asked that he marry them "according to the laws of Moses and Israel." It was a very dangerous proposition: Not only did the Rav not know them personally, but in order to conduct a Jewish ceremony under a chupa, ten Jewish men would have to be found.
Within a short time, nine Jews were hastily assembled in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's home. But where to locate a tenth? With no other option the Rav had taken the bold step of asking the director of the housing project to participate. "Me?!" the man had jumped as if bitten by a snake. "Yes, you," Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had answered in earnest. Surprisingly, the director had agreed, and the clandestine wedding was held. But who knew if this would now be counted against him?
The second witness had also recently been involved in an activity that could possibly implicate him. One day a secret messenger had come to the Rav's house and informed him that the following day, the woman's husband, the high-ranking Communist, would be away on business from morning till night. The real reason for his absence, however, was to allow the Rav to perform a brit mila on their newborn son.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak did not know if he was walking into a trap. But the next day, the tiny infant was entered into the Covenant of Abraham.
That evening, the baby's father returned home and made a big commotion about the "terrible" deed that was done without his knowledge. Thus, it was difficult to predict how the neighbor woman would now testify in court.
The tension was great as the trial opened. The director of the housing project was the first to testify: "As you all know," he began, "I am well aware of everyone who enters and exits Rabbi Schneerson's apartment. But the only unusual visitors I've noticed are two old relatives who drop by from time to time."
Now it was the turn of the second witness to speak. "As a neighbor of Rabbi Schneerson," the woman testified, "I always expected that as a spiritual leader, he would try to establish contact with members of his faith. I therefore find it surprising that I have never noticed any illegal activities in all the time he has lived next door to me."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson thus emerged unscathed from this particular incident. But the evidence against him continued to mount until in 1940, he was declared an "enemy of the people" and exiled to Central Asia. After much suffering he returned his holy soul to its Maker, on the 20th of Av of 5704 (1944). May his saintly memory protect us all.
The unique quality of our generation is hinted at by the word "eikev," which also means "heel" in Hebrew. When you want to enter an extremely cold swimming pool, which is the easiest limb to put in first? The feet. Although the feet lack the sensitivity of the more refined limbs of the body, they respond more readily to our will. The very "lowliness" of the foot is its strength, enabling it to withstand harsh conditions and keep soldiering on. Similarly, although our generation may lack some of the spiritual refinement of the previous generations, like the heel, we are able to show a deeper commitment to fulfilling G-d's will.
(From Keeping in Touch, based on a talk of the Rebbe)