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What Are These?
by Gutman Locks
What is this very small thing that I am holding? If I put on my glasses I see that it is a tiny bird feather. But if I take off my glasses, and look at that feather with a microscope, I would see that it is not what I thought it was when I was looking at it without the microscope.
If the microscope could be strong enough, I would not see a feather at all; instead, I would see zillions of molecules and 99.9% empty space. If I could adjust the microscope even further, I would no longer see molecules, but rather, I would see that each molecule is actually being made up of zillions of atoms and 99.9% empty space. If I could keep going, and going, I would ultimately come to nothing..., to empty space!
The physical universe is being formed out of nothing. G-d's will creates a "gravity-type energy" which holds, and forms itself into matter. That matter is then formed into the myriad shapes and sizes that we see. If G-d would release that gravitation attraction, all matter would instantly "unfold". Everything would revert back to nothing. Not even dust would remain.
Even though the physical universe is being made out of nothing, and some day will revert to nothing, it is something now, and it has a purpose. In order to succeed in this Universe we have to use these objects that we find here for holy purposes. Then, when our bodies revert to dust, and our memory fades to nothing, we take the holiness that we were able to reveal while we were here along with us as we move on to the next, entirely spiritual world.
Oh, that picture...is it a picture of the molecules that make up the feather that I was holding? It looks like it, but actually, it is a picture of stars, far away, and they too are being made out of nothing.
Everything has a soul. If we could see deep enough we would see molecules moving around inside rocks. There is life even in inanimate objects. Obviously, the consciousness that the life in a rock experiences is not the same as the consciousness an animal experiences, but none the less, there is life even in a rock.
What is the experience of consciousness? What is awareness? Just as are all physical encasements different, so too is the nature of the consciousness in objects different. Just as an object's physical body is determined by its purpose in creation, so too is its consciousness determined by its purpose.
What is a bird aware of at this moment? Animals do not have freewill, but they certainly have feelings. What is the insect's experience at this moment? Do insects have fear? Anxiety? Yearning?
Life is such that we are aware of something every moment. We either watch our thoughts running in our head, or we pay attention to something going on around us in our "outer" world. Sometimes we watch the mind roaming, sometimes we lock onto intense focused thoughts. We dream. We hope. We work. Something is always going on inside our head.
There is you, your body, your awareness, and your world, all for a good reason. What an amazing experience life is. What a gorgeous opportunity when we use it properly.
According to Maimonides' enumeration of the Torah's 613 mitzvot, general commandments such as "You shall be holy" or "You shall keep My laws" are not, as a rule, considered mitzvot in their own right. Rather, these injunctions are classified as broad directives encompassing all of Judaism.
It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that the commandment in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, "You shall walk in His ways," is classified as a positive mitzva, requiring a Jew "to emulate the Holy One, Blessed Be He." Maimonides writes, "Just as G-d is gracious, so shall you be gracious. Just as G-d is merciful, so shall you be merciful. Just as G-d is pious, so shall you be pious." Indeed, the commandment implies that a Jew is required to emulate G-d to the best of his ability, at all times and in all circumstances.
But why is this commandment different from all other general statements in the Torah, to the point that it is characterized as a separate mitzva? What does the verse "You shall walk in His ways" entail that other similar commandments do not?
Maimonides classifies "You shall walk in His ways" as a distinct commandment, as it contains a unique aspect not found in any other general directive in the Torah. This innovation is alluded to in the specific use of the word "walk," which implies an ongoing and perpetual sense of motion.
One of the differences between the soul of a Jew and an angel is that angels are stationary beings, fixed in their spiritual positions, whereas the Jewish soul constantly ascends from one spiritual level to the next. The Jew is constantly in motion, reaching higher and higher spiritual heights by virtue of his actions.
It sometimes happens that a Jew may observe mitzvot, yet he remains on the same spiritual rung as before. His performance of the mitzva did not cause him to progress or ascend any further. The commandment "You shall walk in His ways" comes to teach us that a Jew must never be stagnant, and that his performance of the mitzvot must always lead to an improvement of his overall spiritual condition.
How are we to accomplish this? By observing the Torah's mitzvot solely because they are "His ways" - because of our desire to emulate the Creator. For when we do, our spiritual ascent to higher and higher levels of G-dliness is assured.
Adapted from Volume 4 of Likutei Sichot
by Rabbi Bentzion Elisha
I am somewhere between heaven and earth, on the picturesque mountainous terrain of Colorado. I'm in the car, waiting.
Dovi and I, two rabbinic students from the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn, have Jewish souls to kindle on the mountains of Colorado and the open spaces of Wyoming.
I sip a bottle of water to keep the headaches from high altitude at bay. Dovi reappears with a friend.
"Bentzion let me introduce you to Sol," Dovi says.
I get out of the car and smile. Sol is dressed in baggy clothes and is wearing a backpack. His long reddish dreadlocked hair is semi-covered with a knit cap. His speech is easy-going and on the mellow side.
"How did you meet each other?" I inquire.
"I was in the restroom and I was surprised to see someone wearing a skullcap, a kippa," Sol starts explaining as Dovi finishes off the thought..."Then he pointed at me and said 'You're Jewish! I'm also Jewish!' "
"So what are rabbis like you doing in a place like this?" Sol asks.
"Well we actually came thousands of miles especially to meet with you," Dovi quips.
'He isn't kidding," I explain further. "We're students from the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Brooklyn. We're part of a summer program that sends pairs of rabbis in training all around the world to meet Jews and hopefully make a soul connection; help perform a mitzva (commandment), bond with other Jews."
Dovi asks Sol, "So now that you know why we are here, what brings you to Aspen?"
"Well I'm here because there is a bluegrass concert today up this mountain. I travel around and follow different bands I like."
"How do you pay for the tickets?"
"I usually don't pay. I volunteer to help the organizers and get in that way. I actually have to go meet the organizers of this concert very soon. They told me to check in with them a little while before the concert starts and it'll start in an hour or an hour and a half."
"Maybe before you go you want to put on Tefilin?"
"It was nice bumping into you fellows. You both are more interesting than most of the people I usually meet, but I really have to go..."
"It has been extremely nice to have met you. Like I said before, we literally flew thousands of miles to spend some time with you. How about we at least walk you to your meeting place?" Dovi offers.
"No problem man. That would be awesome! I'd like to hang out with you."
As we walk up the mountain to Sol's meeting, we turn more than a few heads. As we walk further we get to know more about Sol. As we finally arrive at the entrance of the tented concert area, situated on a large plateau a third of the way up the mountain, we are confronted with an awkward feeling of separation. We have been conversing for what seems like a long time.
Not knowing if we will get another chance, I ask enthusiastically again "Sol before you go, would you like to perform the great mitzva of putting on Tefilin?"
"I'm sorry, I can't be late to meet with the concert crew. But, if they have enough help and don't need me, I'll do a mitzva."
"So we'll wait for you here. Just in case..."
With those parting words, Sol disappears into the concert grounds. A little while later we see Sol returning to us sporting a dejected face.
"This never happens to me! I always get in," Sol laments when he reaches us.
"This is called hashgacha pratit! Divine providence! You are meant to do a mitzva," Dovi states confidently.
"I guess you're right..." Sol mumbles. "Maybe we can go down the mountain. There are tables and benches down there," he suggests.
We head towards the table area down below. "Sol, we are going to do a very holy mitzva. 'Mitzva' literally means a commandment, an act commanded by G-d. In Aramaic the word 'mitzva' means 'connection.' So essentially by performing a mitzva we connect to G-d's will.
Are you ready?" I ask as I take the Tefilin out.
"I don't know what to do." He admits bashfully.
"Don't worry. I'll help you along. We will say the blessing on the Tefilin at the beginning of the wrap."
We read the "Shema Yisrael" prayer together. Sol's eyes turn soulful as he looks at the words on the pages I'm reading from. The energy of the moment is intense, and somehow transforms into becoming very personal.
Then all of a sudden while Sol is still wearing the Tefilin on his head and arm, we are approached by a stranger. The man directs his attention to me and looks me in the eye.
"Excuse me Rabbi. I happen to have this ticket to the blue grass concert starting soon up the mountain. I won't be able to make it, something came up. Would you like the ticket?" Sol is amazed, Dovi is taken aback, and I am very surprised by this 'coincidental' gift offering.
"I'm not going to be able to go to the concert, however, I have a friend who would love to get into this concert," I say with a smile as I look at Sol who is looking on with his mouth open.
The man hands me the ticket and disappears as quickly as he appeared. I hand Sol the ticket into the hand that still has the Tefilin on it.
"I can't believe this!" he gasps looking at his arm wrapped with the straps then looking at the ticket he is holding with that arm's hand. "This is unreal!"
"You see, you just did a mitzva and G-d gave you a little sign. This doesn't happen every day you know..." Dovi says.
Sol is visibly affected by the fact that he 'miraculously" received a ticket for the concert he has tried to get into so desperately, without any success, until right after he put on Tefillin.
"Don't think that by doing mitzvot you get what you want. The gift itself is fulfilling the desire of the Creator..." I add.
"Whatever you say man, but this is really trippy..." he concludes shaking his head.
"Sol we have to go. We have to continue on our trip. We are headed to Vail next."
"It was really nice hanging out with you guys. Let me walk you to your car. It was really special meeting you!" Sol says as he goives Dovi a bear hug.
"Meeting you made our day." Dovi says.
Sol then gives me a big hug and says , "I'm not going to thank you for the ticket. I'll thank G-d..."
We get into our car and slowly drive away. I look back and he is still there following us with those eyes, holding the ticket, his miracle, close to his heart. Excerpted from "18 Frames of Being," available on Amazon.com.
C-Teen Leadership Retreat
This past month, teen leaders of CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) chapters from throughout North America, together with Chabad-Lubavitch emissary families, attended a three-day CTeen Leadership Retreat Weekend. The teens were chosen or elected to participate based on their passion to make a difference in their communities. CTeen focuses on building core values and stresses positive character development. through educational, humanitarian and social programs.
Saying Mazel Tov
For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121. The Psalm states our dependence on G-d for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. For a color copy of the Psalm call Mikvah.org at (718) 756-5700, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or to downoad a color copy visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
The following letter was written to Mr. Ernest and Mrs. Erna Weill. Erna Weill was a world-renown scultpor.
11th of Teveth, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter of December 21st with the enclosed reproduction of Mrs. Weill's sculptures, which are returned herewith as requested.
Although the art of sculpture is not in my domain, I, nevertheless, take the liberty of making the following observations in connection with the subject matter of our discussion when you were here, namely, with regard to the Baal-Shem-Tov.
To be sure, an artist has the prerogative of certain so-called artistic license, and may use his imagination in a work of art representing a person according to his mind, especially where no authentic likeness exists, as in the case of the Baal-Shem-Tov, for the pictures purportedly representing the Baal-Shem-Tov are not his likeness but of another one of the Baale-Shem. However, I can safely assume that in your sculpture you wished to represent in a symbolic way the ideological person, namely, the founder of the Chassidic movement. Hence, as we have touched upon the subject, though not quite adequately, it should be borne in mind that the soul of Chassidism is ecstasy and inspiration, and the ability to see even in simple material objects the Divine "Spark" and the Divine "Light" which is their true reality. Such ideas would be reflected, as might well be imagined, in rather refined facial features, which express a longing for the sublime together with profound inner spiritual strength, coupled with serenity and gentleness. Thus, one would imagine the Baal-Shem-Tov to be of a patriarchal type, with a flowing beard and, perhaps, disheveled locks of the head, crowning highly refined facial features, etc. I would also like to emphasize another feature which is characteristic for the teachings of Chassidism, namely, the interest in and tender care of the Jewish child, which could be personified in the Baal-Shem-Tov holding the hand of a small child. Incidentally, it is well-known that the Baal-Shem-Tov's first activities, even before he revealed himself, was as a teacher of very young children. Of course, the sculpture may be intended only to reproduce his head or bust, without accompanying figures.
I have no doubt that you had your own reasons for choosing to personify the Baal-Shem-Tov in your particular way, and I would like to know your motivations.
In connection with the above, I am enclosing a copy of my recent message, in which there is a reference to the work of the Baal-Shem-Tov.
I send you my prayerful wishes that the change in direction relating to your work, of which we spoke, should come about in a much easier and more gratifying way than you might expect at first.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
Our first father, Avraham, as a result of his service with self-sacrifice to make G-d - the one G-d - widely known among all mankind, merited to bequeath to his descendants (to the end of all generations) pure faith in G-d and His Torah. Hence, every Jewish man and woman has the power and fortitude to offer his life for the holy Torah.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
An individual's birthday has a very special meaning for that person. The birthday of a tzadik - a truly righteous individual - has deep significance for everyone who attempts to live according to the tzadik's teachings. A tzadik's birthday is, in some ways like the spiritual birthday of his followers.
The birthdays of two great tzadikim are this coming Shabbat, the 18h of Elul (corresponding this year to September 13). On the 18th ("Chai") of Elul, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, follower of the Baal Shem Tov and founder of Chabad Chasidut, were born.
These two great men dedicated their lives to teaching about the worth of every single Jew. Ahavat Yisrael - unconditional love of each Jew was at the forefront of their philosophy.
Today, nearly two centuries later, we benefit from the guidance and revelations of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman. The date of their birth, then, is not only their birthday - it is also our birthday. On our birthday we take time out to reflect on our achievements of the past year and our goals for the future.
It is fitting that on the birthday of these tzadikim, we reflect on how well we have followed and benefited from them, and we make our resolutions for the New Year.
We will, in their merit, be blessed with a K'tiva Vachatima Tova, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
You shall take from the first of all the fruits which you will bring from your land, which the L-rd your G-d gives you (Deut. 26:2)
The commandment to bring the first fruits to the Temple helps combat the notion that the beautiful fruits are solely the result of one's own toil and wisdom. If you begin to feel that it is "your land," the mitzva makes you aware that the land and its produce are that "which the L-rd your G-d gives you."
It will be when you come into the land (eretz) that the Eternal, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you will inherit it and dwell in it. (Deut. 26:1)
The Midrash notes that eretz is similar to ratzon (desire). When you attain the level of ratzon of G-d, you have been given a gift from above. It is an inheritance for every Jew.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
You shall go to the place the Eternal your G-d will choose to cause His name to dwell there. (Deut. 26:2)
A Jew must know that when he goes from one place to another, he is not going on his own but is directed from Above. And the intention and purpose of this is "to cause His Name to dwell there" - that is, to make G-d known in the place to which he was Divinely led.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Because you did not serve the Eternal your G-d with joyfulness and gladness of heart...therefore you will serve your enemy. (28:47,48)
Rabbi Simcha Bunim explained the above verse as follows: It is not enough that "you did not serve the Eternal your G-d" but you did this with joyfulness-you were happy that you weren't serving Him!
Reb Moshe Chaim and his wife, Miriam, had been married for 33 years. They were simple but very generous people. What greatly upset them was the fact that they had no children. One night, Reb Moshe Chaim was sitting in a corner of the shul listening to a discussion about the Baal Shem Tov.
The people spoke about how a childless couple, already advanced in years, had come to the Baal Shem Tov and begged him to bless them with a child. The Baal Shem Tov gave them the blessing and, with G-d's help, a son was born to them.
A few days later, Moshe Chaim told his wife about the story. Miriam had heard similar stories from Bashe, a righteous woman who was the wife of the famous chasid Reb Gedalia Boruch the Shoemaker. Miriam and Bashe worked together in providing medical care and nourishment for mothers who had just given birth, and in dowering brides and supporting orphans. Miriam was overjoyed to hear her husband was considering a trip to the Baal Shem Tov.
Months passed, though, and still Moshe Chaim and Miriam had not made the journey. In the middle of Passover, Moshe Chaim heard that a group of people led by Reb Gedalia Boruch were planning to visit the Baal Shem Tov seven weeks later for the festival of Shavuot. After discussing it between themselves, Moshe Chaim and Miriam decided to join the group.
On the second day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, they set out on their journey. Moshe Chaim and Miriam came to the Baal Shem Tov and, weeping profusely, poured out their hearts to him. The Baal Shem Tov, however, gave them no blessing. They entered his room again a few days later and then a third time, but the Baal Shem Tov gave them no reply.
Reb Gedalia Boruch, knowing that the Baal Shem Tov always acted toward his visitors with intense ahavat Yisrael (love of one's fellow Jew), was deeply upset at the bitter lot of the couple. As he was one of the Baal Shem Tov's earliest disciples, he sought the advice of his colleagues about the case. They decided that ten men should gather to fast, pray, and plead for the couple for three consecutive days, and then they would see what the Baal Shem Tov would say.
Reb Gedalia Boruch and his colleagues carried out their plan with true ahavat Yisrael. They were careful to avoid uttering any words that were not for a holy purpose and poured out their hearts pleading for Divine mercy for Moshe Chaim and Miriam. No one else was aware of what they were doing. On the evening of the third day, when they were still in the middle of the evening prayer service, the Baal Shem Tov's attendant came and told them that the Baal Shem Tov was inviting them to a celebratory meal.
The meal took place with the participation of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples and all the guests then visiting the holy Rebbe. The Baal Shem Tov was highly elated and expounded on new Torah insights and on the verses, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," and "How good and pleasant it is for brothers dwelling together." He also told them various stories on the subject of ahavat Yisrael and how dear Jews are to G-d. The Baal Shem Tov explained the tremendous effect that brotherly love can have and how, when friends plead for Divine mercy for a comrade in distress, they can even annul a heavenly decree of 70 years duration and transfer "the curse to blessing, and death to long life."
Reb Gedalia Boruch and his colleagues realized that the reason for the celebration was what they had done and that their plan had worked. They immediately urged Moshe Chaim and Miriam to press their plea. When the couple approached the Baal Shem Tov, he gave them his blessing to have a child who would live a long and happy life.
G-d fulfilled the Baal Shem Tov's blessing and on the second day of Iyar the following year, Miriam bore a son. They named him Shlomo. At about the same time, Bashe, Reb Gedalia Boruch's wife, bore a daughter whom they named Yocheved. When Shlomo and Yocheved were 17, the parents arranged a match between them. Shlomo became known as Shlomo Bashe's after his wife's mother, a great woman who was known for her deed of kindness and charity.
The verse "When you will enter the land," refers to the Redemption when every Jew will enter the Holy Land that Gd has promised to the Jewish people. At that time, the Jews will act in a manner that will emphasize the holiness of the land and its connection to the Jewish people. From Israel, the Redemption will spread out to the world at large, granting a good and sweet year not only to the Jewish people, but to all nations. Then there will be peace and brotherhood among nations as the prophet declared, "Nation will not lift up sword against nation." The world will reach an ultimate state of fulfillment when there will be no more war and Gdliness will be drawn down to every creation in the world.
(The Rebbe, 17 Elul, 5751-1991)