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Is the glass half empty or half full? That's a typical example used when discussing if someone is a pessimist or an optimist. The pessimist always looks at what's missing, what isn't there, while the optimist looks at what is there, what's positive about the situation.
But are pessimism or optimism the only deciding factor in the way a person perceives the contents of the glass? Is there more to it?
Let's take another example, that of two people standing at the same point in a field. One person sees garbage and refuse in front of him. The second person sees a magnificent mansion, lush gardens, idyllic orchards.
Can these two people possibly be standing in the same location of a field at the same exact moment? Yes. But they are looking in opposite directions. The first person is looking back to where he came from - the city. He is seeing the impoverished neighborhoods and garbage on the outskirts of the city. The second person is looking ahead toward his destination, the palace and his meeting with the king.
In this scenario it matters not whether a person is a pessimist or an optimist. What is important is where the person focuses his attention.
The month of Elul is the time when the King of Kings, so to speak, is in the field. He is available to all, not hidden behind gates and doors and guards and officialdom. So, Elul is a unique time of accessibility and compassion.
As we stand in the field, ready and waiting to greet the King - to ask G-d for our needs for the coming year - to request a good and sweet year, health, peace, financial stability for each individual personally and the world at large - we all stand poised at the same spot in the field. No Jew is closer or further away from G-d at that moment.
The only question might be, "In which direction are we looking?" Are we looking toward the rubbish and refuse of the city whence we came or are we looking toward the palace?
Looking toward the palace is constructive and invigorating in general. And in particular, it is beneficial as well.
When the Lubavitcher Rebbe was asked how could he say that we are now in the time just before the coming of Moshiach, he replied with the above analogy and explained that it depends toward which direction one is looking.
By focusing our sights, goals and actions on the palace, the palace is in the center of our vision; it is our constant goal.
When the Redemption commences, G-d will continuously be "in the field" as G-dliness will be revealed in its totality in the Messianic Era.
Let's cultivate the ability to focus on the true destination, the Divine Palace. And let's do everything we can to continue advancing step-by-step toward our goal by doing good deeds, mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah until we walk hand in hand to greet Moshiach.
"Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear G-d....Therefore, you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. You must not forget."
With these verses, this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, closes. We do not, however, read the command to wipe-out Amalek only once a year during the reading of Ki Teitzei. Every day, at the end of our morning prayers, this command is recited. Who was Amalek and why are we, the Jews-described by the Torah as "compassionate" - commanded to destroy the people of Amalek?
The destruction of Amalek is symbolic of the nullification of a specific negative trait which can manifest itself within each one of us.
When a person is stirred and wants to go out of "Egypt" - from the limitations of the corporeal - "Amalek" comes along and tries to prevent him from doing so.
How does he do this? "When they encountered you" in Hebrew is karkha. The word "kar" means cold. The commentator Rashi explains that Amalek attempted to stop us with coldness. What does this mean?
Spirituality thrives on warmth and excitement; G-d is referred to as a "consuming fire." Amalek cools off a person's spirituality and numbs him from being excited about anything G-dly, by planting seeds of doubt (the numerical equivalent of Amalek is the same as safek - doubt).
The antidote to the actions of Amalek is "remember." One must always have words of Torah engraved in his mind and memory, so that one may meditate and ponder them anytime and in any place, and through this can nullify the evil of Amalek.
But, were not the Jews protected in the desert from enemy attack by the Divine clouds? Amalek attacked "those who had no strength." Rashi explains that the Cloud cast some of them out due to their sins. They had "no strength" to overcome their desire to sin.
Amalek attacked only those Jews who had transgressed, and whom the Cloud had thrown out of the camp. Yet, it was in order to save these very Jews from the hands of Amalek that the entire Jewish people left the protection of the Cloud to go out to war.
We must learn a lesson from this week's portion and "live with the times." When the need arises, we too, must go out of the comfort and safety of our own "clouds" in order to help another Jew, no matter who he is, where he is, or what he has done in the past.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Finding Gold in California
by Richard Morris
It was early Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, 1980. I'd just moved to California after working out my stand-up act in New York. I was walking on Fairfax Avenue, picking up my dry cleaning.
As I passed by a kosher-style deli, I noticed a table on the street set up near the restaurant. A young fellow with a short black beard wearing a black hat and a black coat sitting at the table looked at me.
I continued walking toward, but not directly to, his table. I tried not to make eye-contact. On the table were long leather straps tied to little black boxes, and some books ... and, I think, a cup of ice cream! Keep walking slowly, don't attract his attention, I thought. In one corner of my mind it was as if I was sitting in a classroom staring straight ahead, hoping, praying the teacher wouldn't call on me. But as I tried to literally fly by the table, I got caught.
"Are you Jewish?" the fellow with the beard and the hat asked. Is this fellow really talking to me? "Are you Jewish?" he asked again, with a smile. It was the moment of truth. Do I lie and say no? That would have been easy. Case closed. No, I'm not Jewish. Or do I say yes? Case opened. I looked at him, I looked at the straps, I looked at the boxes, knowing full well what they were - tefilin, and I looked at the ice cream cup. I knew the significance of the tefilin, but I was very curious to know what had changed in the practice of Judaism that now included ice cream!
I opted for telling the truth. "Yes, I'm Jewish." Then he asked, "Did you put on tefilin today?"
I said, "Today? What time is it? Today? I haven't put on tefilin since my Bar Mitzva."
"So," he said, "let's put on tefilin right now." "Right now?" I said, cringing to myself. People directly around me were staring at me in my little running outfit and my dry cleaning held over my shoulder wondering what I was going to do. This I was not imagining.
While thoughts swept through my mind of the great extent of the Jewish peoples' existence, I pictured the patriarch Abraham counting the stars in the sky, representing the myriad numbers of Jews there would be someday, and I saw it all ending on Fairfax Avenue with me being asked by this young fellow with the hat, coat and beard - and the ice cream cup - if I'd put on tefilin that day! What could I do? I didn't want to be the one to throw Abraham's count off. So I said, "Yes, I'll put on tefilin!"
It wasn't an indecisive yes. It was a "yes" yes! I put my dry cleaning on the table, which made for the most incongruous configuration of objects sitting next to each other on a table, ever: tefilin, religious books, a melting ice cream cup and dry cleaning from Shottenstein's French Dry Cleaners!
And before I could ask what do I do now, this young rabbi was wrapping the thin leather straps and little leather boxes all over my left arm and my forehead. And there I was, establishing the newest and presumably the most un-coolest fashion statement in all of Hollywood: running shorts, tank top, and tefilin!
With that, he led me through a prayer that I certainly remembered - the mainstay of Judaism - the Shema. I hadn't said the Shema since my Bar Mitzva. And if you're Jewish, and you haven't said the Shema in a very long time, something can be awakened in you, something called the pintela Yid, that inner Jewish soul spark.
It was awakened in me that hot Friday afternoon on Fairfax Avenue. I thanked him for his help as he unwrapped the tefilin from around my arm and removed it from my head. And I vividly remember slapping my wrist several times to alert my blood that, indeed, break time was now over! Then the young rabbi told me something I had never heard before. He said that Judaism was an active religion. "We're an active people."
And he said if I am Jewish, I could be doing Jewish. "Doing Jewish?" I asked. He said, "Yes, doing Jewish." And I thought, Like what? Eating hamantaschen, or pronouncing the letters 'ch' like I was getting ready to get rid of some phlegm?
And, seeming to know what I was thinking, he continued. "We've been doing things Jewish, commanded to us in Torah, all through the millennia to bring us to where we are today!"
"Let me get this straight: we've been doing Jewish things, commanded to us in Torah, that have made us wind up on ... Fairfax Avenue?"
He said, "Well, in an interesting way, yes."
"Are you sure we've been doing the right things?"
"Most definitely!" I was scared to ask him what we'd been doing! I thought he might bring out a small Biblical animal for me to sacrifice.
"Doing what Jews do," he continued, "putting on tefilin, keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath...."
"Oh," I said. And then I thought, this young rabbi with the coat and beard and ice cream was making too much sense. Suddenly my memories began pushing their way forward. I knew what he was talking about and, sure, it would've been nice if I could have been doing those things he was talking about, but I wasn't willing to do so much Jewish stuff at that time. But in one part of my mind, I felt a comfort.
I thanked him politely, and asked him where he was from. I expected him to say from some far-off planet (with that sheet metal teacher) I'd never heard of, like hamantaschen. He said, "Brooklyn."
This planet I'd heard of. We talked about Brooklyn and I picked up my dry cleaning. I said goodbye and I went back to being a stand-up comedian, working two shows Friday, two shows Saturday and shows every other night of the week. Fairfax went back to being Fairfax before the Sabbath: Jews greeting one another, buying challahs and chickens, special Sabbath treats, and whatever else went along with Jewish people preparing for Friday night.
But I can tell you that the act of putting on tefilin left me with the feeling that the part of me that I had been avoiding all through the years wasn't avoiding me. I felt, for an instant, that I had been back home. And when I thought about that spark of Judaism inside of me, I got a good feeling about the fact that no matter where I might ever be in my life, I will always have a home.
Now I'd been shown what I should look for. And whether I knew it or not, I was on my way back to my Judaism. But I wasn't ready yet. I was very much in the comedy club world, working and having a great time. But with this one experience on Fairfax Avenue, I was able to see things in a different light.
Excerpted from Funny You Should Think About a Return to Judaism by Richard Morris.
It's Called Kibud Av V'Eim
It's Called Kibud Av V'Eim: A Story About Honoring Parents is the latest release from HaChai Publishing. In this simple, joyous picture book, a young sister and brother share their enthusiasm for honoring their parents. Together, they count what they can do to fulfill this mitzva (commandment) from morning to night! One - we do not make a peep When our parents are asleep! Two - we get dressed when they say, Three - put toys back after play! The beautiful illustrations include big bright numbers and scenes of warm and loving family life. How do we honor our parents? Let's all count the ways! Written by Dina Rosenfeld, illustrated by Len Ebert, pages are laminated.
Erev Shabbis Kodesh Mevorchim Chodesh Elul, 5740 (1980)
I was pleased to be informed about the forthcoming Annual Dinner, celebrating the first decade of Bais Chana. May G-d grant that the event should be crowned with much hatzlocha [success] in every respect.
There is a special relevance in the fact that this event is taking place in the month of Elul, the last month of the outgoing year, which serves as a preparation for the New - and better - Year.
The significance of the month of Elul is alluded to in its very name, which as our Sages point out, is an acrostic of Elul, Ani L'dodi v'dodi Li - "I turn to my Beloved, and my Beloved turns to me: (Song of Songs 6:3). It is the time of the year when Jews turn to G-d ("my Beloved") with a resurgence of love, and take the initiative to strengthen the bond with our Heavenly Father, through special efforts in Torah, prayer, and acts of loving kindness - the Three Pillars on which the world at large, and the small world of the individual, rest.
It is also the time when "my Beloved turns to me" and promptly reciprocates and requites this love, and graciously bestows His blessings on all of us, as we are about to enter the New Year on a new dimension of mutual attachment. And since G-d's love knows no bounds, His blessings are boundless in all our needs; both spiritual and material.
In light of the above, I am confident that all friends of Bais Chana will - in the spirit of Elul - make a special effort on behalf of this most worthy educational institution, where Jewish daughters are educated and inspired to be worthy of our Jewish Mothers - Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, the Founders of the House of Israel, and will proudly fulfill their preeminent role of Akeres Habayis - the Foundation of the Jewish home: a home permeated with love of G-d and filled to overflowing with Torah, prayer, and mitzvot, to illuminate also its environs.
May G-d grant that the spirit of Elul will truly be reflected in your own generosity as well as in active personal involvement, to enlarge the circle of friends and supporters of Bais Chana as it enters the next decade of dedicated service to the community and to our people as a whole.
With prayerful wishes for hatzlacha in all above, and wishing each and every one of you, and yours, a kesiva vachasima tova for a good and sweet year,
12 Elul, 5724 (1964)
To the Campers of Camp Gan Israel
G-d bless you all -
I have, of course, followed with particular interest, the reports of your camp life and camp activities. I am pleased to know that you are doing well, and are benefiting physically and spiritually.
As the time approaches when you will soon take leave of your beloved camp and return to your homes and educational institutions, I want to express my hope that the benefit and inspiration which you have received from your camp will be a source of lasting strength to you in the coming year, and that you will share these benefits with others who were not as fortunate as you to spend weeks and months in Camp Gan Israel.
We are now in the significant month of Elul, the month of preparation for the new year. This is the month of opportunity, the month of special Divine grace and mercy. Of this month the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman - founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy] said that this is the time when, as it were, the King is in the Field. Instead of having to seek an audience with the King in His Palace, the King comes out to meet His subjects in the field. At such a time everyone can easily approach the King and present to Him a petition, and the King receives everyone with a gracious smile and fulfills the petition.
I firmly trust that every one of you will take the fullest advantage of this propitious time, to rededicate yourselves to the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the Mitzvoth [commandments] with a growing measure of devotion and diligence.
May you always strive to be a living example to others of what it is to be a son of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, a son of our people Israel and a member of the tribe of Gan Israel.
May G-d bless you with hatzlocha to carry out your good resolutions, in good health and with gladness of heart, and may He bless you and all your near and dear ones with a kesiva vachasima tova (may you be written and sealed for good).
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidim, interpreted the statement, "Whoever saves a single person of (the people) Israel is as though he saved an entire world": One must perceive a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon. There, each soul stands with all the generations destined to descend from it until the coming of Mashiach, the righteous Redeemer. When one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls until the end of all generations.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Jewish people have a unique relationship with G-d, a relationship described in Song of Songs as that of a marriage between G-d (the groom) and the Jewish people (the bride).
During Elul a special dimension is added to this relationship as alluded to in the verse from Song of Songs which serves as an acronym for the word Elul, "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine."
This verse actually contains two different types of G-dly service. We can enhance our relationship with G-d by focusing on these two services, the advantages of each and on the interrelation between them.
"I am my Beloved's" refers to a relationship with G-d that is initiated by man. It possesses an advantage over the service of "my Beloved is mine," specifically because it is accomplished on man's own initiative.
It contains, however, a limitation.
For, since man is limited, such service can reach only those levels of G-dliness which relate to the limitations of man and not to the infinite dimensions of G-dliness.
In contrast, the service of "my Beloved is mine," which refers to our relationship with G-d initiated by G-d, reflects a revelation of G-d as He is, unlimited and unbounded, to man.
However, since this comes about as a revelation from Above, it is not appreciated by man. Quite the contrary, it is regarded as "bread of shame," as our Sages refer to it. For a person appreciates and cherishes more that which he, himself has worked for and accomplished.
Since both services contain advantages and disadvantages, there is a need for the fusion of both these services and this is reflected in the name "Elul."
In this manner, even prayer, mitzvot and acts of kindness, carried out by man on his own initiative will have an unlimited dimension especially during this month.
When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the L-rd your G-d has delivered them into your hand, and you have taken them captive (Deut. 21:10)
Not only does G-d assure us victory over our enemies; we are promised that the spoils plundered by the nations will be fully restored to the Jewish people. According to Maimonides, one of the first things Moshiach will do is "wage the wars of G-d and prevail." Everything that was wrongfully stolen from the Jews during the exile will be returned to our hands. Most significantly this includes the ultimate target of their hatred, the Holy Temple, which was twice destroyed. When Moshiach comes and rebuilds the Temple, it will finally be redeemed from the captivity of the nations where it has been for almost two thousand years.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Teitzei 5750)
These words refer to the descent of the soul, "a veritable part of G-d Above," into the physical world. Its mission, enclothed within a physical body, is to wage war and conquer the material world by infusing it with holiness, learning Torah and observing its commandments. This conflict will reach its successful conclusion with the coming of Moshiach, when G-dliness will reign triumphant.
You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together (Deut. 22:10)
G-d has mercy on all His creations, big and small. The smaller donkey is unequal in strength to the mighty ox, and is unable to pull a plow with the same force. Yoking them together would cause the donkey to exert itself beyond its natural capacity, and is therefore forbidden.
You shall not give interest to your brother...anything that is lent upon interest (literally, "anything that bites") (Deut. 23:20)
Usury is likened to the bite of a serpent. Just as it takes the body a few minutes to react to a snake's poison, so too does it take time for the full effect of the compounding of interest to be felt by the borrower.
Many years ago in the village of Aziz in Israel there lived a poor family with a daughter named Rachel. The girlish happiness of a new dress was far out of Rachel's reach, but she had a fine character and a sharp mind which she used to help her beleaguered family.
One day Rachel and her siblings were outside when Rachel reached up to get a pot down from the top of the roof. Suddenly she lost her footing and slipped from the shaky wooden ladder. She came toppling down onto the stone pavement and struck her mouth on a rock. Her little siblings fluttered around her, but she calmly brushed them away and went into the house. Her mother heard the commotion and approached her daughter in alarm. After wiping away the blood, they found to their horror, that one of Rachel's front teeth had been knocked out.
This seemingly insignificant event caused her life to take an unhappy turn. Always a sensitive girl, Rachel suffered terribly from the teasing of her friends who giggled at the wide gap in her mouth. She no longer wanted to join with the other girls in their activities. Her despair deepened as time went on, and her distraught parents were at a loss of what to do.
Although they had barely enough money for food, Rachel's parents managed to gather enough money to make a false tooth. But the craftsman they hired was not very skilled, and the tooth didn't fit properly and was a dark color. Instead of improving her appearance, it made her look much worse. In her attempt to hide the tooth, she kept her mouth closed most of the time. She soon looked like a bitter, dejected old woman.
Time went by. All of her old friends married one by one; only Rachel was left without a suitor, for no one was interested in the sad, withdrawn, unsmiling girl. Her heartbroken parents knew that they must do something, but a dowry was far beyond their means and besides, no one wanted her.
Finally they came up with an idea. The girl's mother had a younger brother who lived in a village outside of Jerusalem. He was also poor and worked hard for a living, but he was a fine man and would make a good husband for his niece. Pleased with their idea, the parents sent a messenger to their relative, and he agreed to the suggestion. Although he hadn't seen his niece in many years he remembered her as a sunny, cheerful little girl.
He travelled to their home and stood expectantly at the door as he waited for someone to answer his knock. The door opened and a dishevelled, worn-looking woman stood on the other side. He was shocked to learn that this was his betrothed, and he flatly refused to honor his promise and left the town at once.
Finally word of the debacle came to the ears of Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha. This rabbi loved his fellow Jews, and was especially attached to the mitzva (commandment) of helping poor Jewish girls get married. And when poverty was an obstacle he expended tremendous effort in helping them. His warm heart was touched by the tragic story and he summoned the girl's parents, offering to take Rachel into his home. "Bring your daughter to us, and my wife will take good care of her. I promise you that before long that young man will sorely regret having refused her."
So, Rachel went to live with this kind family who spared no effort to make her comfortable. For the first time in her life she ate nourishing meals each day, and was pampered with fine soaps and ointments. Her hair was groomed and festooned with stylish ribbons. Soon, her cheeks glowed with health and her newfound happiness radiated outward. Still, there was the problem of the tooth. Rabbi Yishmael ordered an expert craftsman to make her a new tooth, this time of gold. Rachel was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. In those days gold teeth were a mark of beauty as well as high station. Rachel couldn't help but stare at her reflection in the mirror, but it was hard to recognize the beautiful young woman who stared back at her.
The following week Rabbi Yishmael sent for the young man who recently had refused to marry her, saying, "There is a lovely young woman I would like you to meet. I think she would be a fine wife for you. Why don't you come and meet her and see what you think."
He was pleased to accept the proposal and lost no time in showing up at Rabbi Yishmael's house. When he entered the room and saw the attractive woman who sat next to Rabbi Yishmael's wife, a smile crept across his face, for he immediately recognized his niece, but she was completely changed. How could it be that the girl who had seemed so ugly and repulsive had now become so beautiful? His thoughts were interrupted by Rabbi Yishmael's voice saying, "Isn't this the same young woman you vowed not to marry?"
The man was caught off guard and protested, "I made a mistake. I would really like very much to marry her."
Rabbi Yishmael felt a sudden pang of sorrow, sorrow for all the other Rachels he was unable to help, and he responded softly, "I absolve you of the vow which you made by mistake. You may marry, and G-d grant that your years be filled with happiness and peace." And so it was.
One year on Simchat Torah, at a gathering, the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught a Chasidic nigun (melody) to the words in the Musaf prayer of Shabbat and holidays "He is our G-d, He is our Father, He is our King, He is our Deliver. He will soon again save and redeem us..." During a break in the gathering, the Rebbe turned to the chasid Reb Reuven Dunin and asked him to sing the nigun. Reb Reuven told the Rebbe that he doesn't know the tune so well yet. The Rebbe replied, "In this nigun the melody is not so important, what is important are the words that show our strong belief in the coming of Moshiach!"