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Many folks from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains have been going on nature walks, drives through the mountains, or strolls in parks these past few weeks to enjoy the change of colors and scenery that autumn affords. Kids in particular enjoy collecting the fallen autumn leaves.
Sometimes it's for a school project (having to identify which leaves came from which trees?), an art project, or a personal project (trying to find leaves in as many different colors and shapes as possible?).
Do you remember one of those "nature/art projects" that many of us did as kids? You took leaves and put them under a sheet of paper. With the edge of a crayon you rubbed the paper over the leaf and were able to recognize not only the shape of the leaf but even its main stem and veins. You couldn't rub it too lightly or too firmly, though, or it wouldn't work.
Jewish life is like one big leaf collecting project if you consider that mitzvot are very much like leaves. They come in all different colors and shapes and sizes and textures. And, as Jewish teachings explain, just as no two faces are exactly the same neither are there two temperaments or opinions that are exactly the same.
Thus, individuals are attracted to different mitzvot (commandments). But, despite one's propensity for a certain shaped or colored leaf, if the teacher said you had to collect ten different leaves you had to collect TEN different leaves.
Similarly, though we might enjoy doing one mitzva over another mitzva, or five mitzvot rather than 13 mitzvot, when the Teacher says to collect 13, you gotta collect 13.
Similar to the way we execute the art project, we should be neither too firm nor too light in doing these mitzvot, but should follow the rules and tread the middle path; if we don't then the project won't work. It's not a punishment either, it just won't work.
Often people ask, "But isn't the main part of the mitzva the intent? After all, G-d desires the heart!"
Intent and sincerity are a major part of the mitzva but not the main thing. The actual doing of the mitzva, and doing it according to the rules, is the major part.
If you do it wrong, you won't get punished, it just won't come out right. Like the art project with the leaf which doesn't work if you rub too hard or too soft (or not at all), there won't be an image on the paper. And with the mitzva, if it's not done right there won't be an image on your soul, or on the environment, or on the world. That's not a punishment, it's simply a fact. Too little or too much, too light or too hard, too hot or too cold. If you don't do it right it just won't work.
But, there's always next time to try again.
Keep on collecting those leaves and those mitzvot. Enjoy them. Appreciate them. Have favorites that you especially treasure and look for at every opportunity. Eagerly anticipate the times of year when certain mitzvot are more readily available or easily discernible than at other times.
Take a stroll, or a walk or a drive through the glorious colors and scents and textures of mitzvot every single day of your life.
In this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we are told about the births of Abraham's two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.
When G-d promised Abraham that he would have Isaac, Abraham already had a son, Ishmael. Thus Abraham responded to G-d, "I pray that Ishmael might live before You" - i.e., that Ishmael would conduct himself as he should and pursue the Divine way of life. G-d, however, replied, "No. By Isaac shall your seed be called." From Isaac, Abraham was assured, his true joy would come.
There is a basic difference between Ishmael and Isaac. The birth of Ishmael was natural, without any heavenly intervention. Isaac's birth was miraculous for Abraham and Sara were far advanced in age.
Another difference between Ishmael and Isaac relates to the commandment of circumcision. Ishmael was circumcised when he was thirteen years old. At the age of thirteen a youngster has sufficient reason to be held accountable for his conduct and he becomes obligated to observe the mitzvot. Ishmael thus used his reason to determine his readiness to enter the covenant with G-d, and accepted circumcision.
Isaac was circumcised when he was eight days old. An infant that young cannot give consent; nevertheless he was bound up with G-d at that early age. This type of bond can never be dissolved and erased; it is eternal, as the Torah calls it "an eternal covenant."
Isaac's supernatural and miraculous birth was in contrast to Ishmael's natural birth. And Isaac's covenant with G-d was in a supra-rational manner as opposed to Ishmael's covenant.
Normally a child is born and raised under the supervision of his parents, guarded against every harm. He is educated to gain proper understanding, which in turn leads to attachment with G-d. This was the way of Ishmael. He was raised in the home of Abraham and received an education which made him understand that he ought to attach himself to G-d.
This course of life, however, provides no assurances. When religious commitment is based exclusively on reason, we cannot predict how it will be affected by the variables of life. Thus we find with Ishmael, that as soon as his inheritance was affected by Isaac's birth, his behavior deteriorated and G-d commanded Abraham to listen to Sara when she asked that Ishmael be sent away.
Lech Lecha teaches us that, to establish Jewish continuity, one cannot set out with strictly natural calculations. The very existence and purpose of the Jewish people transcends nature. A Jew's life, right from birth, is intertwined with miracles and a disregard for the course of nature.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Chabad-Lubavitch Centers around the world erected public sukkot to enable as many Jews as possible to experience the joys of the festival. There were also "mobile sukkas" on pick-up trucks and "green sukkas" (with no carbon footprints!) on bikes. All in all, hundreds of thousands of Jews this Sukkot had the opportunity to fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of dwelling in a sukka, even if just for a few moments.
In addition, thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim hit the streets in their own local communities, and also visited senior centers, hospitals, prisons and community centers to help their fellow-Jews fulfill the mitzva of making the blessing on the lulav and etrog.
Above: Jews in Yekaterinburg, Russia (Siberia), where the temperatures have already dropped below freezing, didn't miss out on the opportunity to have a piece of cake and a hot cup of tea in the sukka, as well as reciting the blessing on the lulav and etrog.
Rabbi Zalmi and Patsonia Lipinski are moving to the Palermo Soho area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Lipinskis will be the youth directors, working with school children all the way to college students and young professionals.
With the cold winter rapidly approaching, 5,000 of the neediest Jewish children In Ukraine - many of whom are now refugees - and thousands more from across the FSU, will receive warm clothing made possible thanks to the Federation of Jewish Communities' partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and the Gloria-Jeans franchise. Each child is given a gift card with which he or she can purchase a coat, boots, sweaters, socks, hats, etc.
Excerpts of a letter dated 12 MarCheshvan, 5722 
Referring to the subject of your letter, in which you mention that I "admonish" you, it is not my custom to admonish for the sake of admonishment. However, when I see that a person could live on a higher level, no matter how satisfactory the present level seems to be, and if I think that I can do something to encourage that person towards the higher level, I would be remiss in my duty if I remained silent.
In your case, I see three areas in which, with all due respect, I feel that you could do a great deal more:
1. regarding your own opportunities; 2. in the matter of encouraging your husband to utilize his capacities to the fullest advantage; 3. in the conduct of your home, and above all, the education of your children.
During our conversation we touched upon the subject that, as the Torah has always been called Toras Chaim, the Law of Life, and has always been both the source of our life and existence and the guide for our daily life, it is infinitely more so in the present age. The danger to Jewish life and existence in the free countries, especially in these United States, is not the danger of physical extermination, G-d forbid, but there is, nevertheless, a danger which is no less destructive, the danger of assimilation. Precisely because there is no external antagonism and discrimination against the Jews the danger of mass assimilation is a very real one.
It is, therefore, the duty of every conscious and conscientious Jew to do everything possible to stem the tide of assimilation, and it is truly a matter of saving lives.
It is self-evident that such an effort should not be limited to the older generation, but especially in regard to the younger generation, and the very young in particular. And needless to say, a person on whom Divine Providence has bestowed special capacities for influence, is especially duty-bound to use these capacities in the direction outlined.
This is not the time to engage in theoretic research as to all the aspects of the situation, and therefore postpone action pending the results of such research. For, when a house is on fire, there is no time to study the laws of combustion and methods of fire extinguishing, but everything must be done to extinguish the fire before the house is destroyed and there is any possible loss of life.
Another important point to bear in mind is the following - there can be a two fold approach to life:
- to consider it as a matter of pleasure, in which case every effort should be spent towards getting the most out of life, in terms of pleasure, and in every situation to seek the easiest way out;
- to consider life as a challenge, and to help make a better world to live in, especially as the society in which we live is far from perfection. In this case, every effort must be spent towards this end, even if it means the sacrifice of certain personal pleasures, and even if it requires a great deal of continuous physical and mental exertion. But it is this latter approach that offers the maximum pleasure, real pleasure and gratification.
To return to the subject matter of our discussion. I have no doubt that you can do a great deal to influence and encourage your husband in the right direction. Similarly, you have the capacity to extend your influence beyond your immediate surroundings at home, to the community at large. This you can do both in a direct way and perhaps even more so in an indirect way, by raising the standards of your religious and spiritual life.
continued in next issue
The Hebrew word "mitzva" is related to the word meaning "joining," "attachment." Whoever performs a mitzva becomes joined to the Essence of G-d - may He be blessed - Who issues that particular command. This is the meaning of "The reward of a mitzva is the mitzva (itself)": His becoming attached to the Essence of the Infinite Who ordained the command, is itself his reward.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, describes G-d's promise to Abraham that the Land of Israel will be an eternal inheritance to the Jewish people. Abraham's traversing of the land was not a necessary prerequisite for his taking possession of it as G-d's promise itself sufficed to transfer ownership of the Holy Land to Abraham.
It has been mentioned numerous times that the Rebbe's statements regarding the Holy Land, and his staunch position not to give even one inch of land to the Arabs, has nothing to do with Biblical promises nor Messianic visions.
Rather, the Rebbe has made these statements and taken this position because of Pikuach Nefesh - the imminent danger to life - of Jews in the Holy Land. Time and time again, the Rebbe's stand has been shown to be absolutely true.
And yet, of course, there are spiritual as well as mundane lessons to be learned from this week's Torah portion. There are spiritual implications, the Rebbe explains, of G-d's promise to the Jewish people via Abraham:
"There is a particular relevance to G-d's promise in the present age, the era immediately preceding Moshiach's coming. For G-d promised Abraham the lands of the ten nations, including not only the land of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, but also the lands of the Keini, the Kenizi, and the Kadmoni people. G-d promised - and thus gave - the Jewish people all these ten lands at the same time. Nevertheless, in the present era, we were granted only the lands of seven nations and the fulfillment of this promise in its full sense will not be until the Era of the Redemption...at that time not only all the Jews of that generation but also all the Jews of all previous generations who will arise in the Resurrection, will live there."
With the situation as it is now in Israel, the only solution is that G-d fulfill His promise and give possession of the entire Holy Land to the Jewish people under the leadership of Moshiach. May we merit this now!
Go out of your land... and I will make your name great (Gen. 12: 1,2)
Why did G-d find it necessary to promise Abraham that his name would be great? Did Abraham really care about personal fame? Our Sages taught that the mention of Abraham's name caused G-d's name to be sanctified. Abraham's whole life was spent spreading the knowledge of the one G-d. Wherever he went he caused people to think about their Creator. Thus, whenever Abraham's name was mentioned, G-d's name was sanctified, too.
Go out from your country, and from your family, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1)
According to Rashi, the command implied "for your own benefit and to your own advantage." Yet despite the fact that Abraham knew this, he obeyed G-d simply because he had been so commanded, rather than out of any personal advantage it would bring him.
(Der Torah Kval)
A person must overcome his natural inclinations in order to draw closer to G-d. This is alluded to in "Go out of your country ("eretz," related to the word "ratzon" or will; "your family" ("molad'tcha," an allusion to the intellect which "gives birth" to the emotions); and "your father's house" (the word "av," "father," related to "taava," lust and appetite). Only then can one arrive at "the land that I will show you."
Abram took Sarai his wife... and the souls they had made in Charan (Gen. 12:5)
If all the scientists in the world attempted to create even a mosquito, they could not succeed in imbuing it with life. What then, is meant by "the souls they had made"? Rashi explains that this refers to those whom they "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence." Abram spread the belief in one G-d among the men, and Sarai among the women; they are therefore credited with having "created" the new believers.
Many years ago, Pressburg - which was later known as Bratislava - was a great center of Torah learning. It was the site of one of the foremost yeshivas in the world, that of the great rabbi, the Chasam Sofer. After the passing of the Chasam Sofer, his son - the Ksav Sofer - became the head of the yeshiva.
In the time of the Ksav Sofer, there lived a wealthy matron in that city who undertook the great mitzva of supporting the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish for all those who had no one to say it for them. This prayer is normally said by a child of the departed one, or a close family member, and serves to elevate the soul.
The mitzva was very dear to the wealthy woman; it was her very special kind of charity. For many years she made generous donations to the Chasam Sofer Yeshiva in Pressburg on the condition that one of the students would always recite Kaddish.
After many years, the woman's business began to falter until it failed completely. She went to visit Rabbi Sofer, and told him how bitter she felt to be unable to give donations for reciting Kaddish. She was so attached to this mitzva that she implored him to promise that in spite of her inability to pay, the Kaddish would be continued. When her luck changed and her business improved, she promised to immediately give charity in the sum that had accrued. The rabbi agreed and she left the yeshiva quite relieved.
This woman also had daughters who needed dowries to get married, but she was so concerned about the problem of the Kaddish that she had completely forgotten to mention to the Ksav Sofer the problem of the dowries.
As she left the Yeshiva, she encountered an elderly gentleman who asked her, "Why do you look so worried?"
She replied, "I have become poor and no longer have the money I need to pay for the recitation of Kaddish and to marry off my daughters."
The man asked her, "And how much do you need?"
She replied that a large sum of money was required.
To her complete amazement, the man told her that he was a very wealthy person, and he would be happy to give her a bank note which she could cash the next day in a certain bank in the city.
"It is possible, however," the man noted, "that the banker might question the validity of the note. I suggest that two yeshiva students witness my actual writing of the note, so that their testimony will validate the authenticity of the bank note."
The next morning the woman came to the specified bank and presented the note to the banker. Upon seeing the signature on her bank note he fainted.
When the banker was revived, he explained himself:
"My father passed away a number of years ago, but last night I had a very vivid dream about him. In my dream, it seemed that my father stood before me, exactly as he was in life, and he looked very sternly into my eyes.
" 'A woman will come into the bank tomorrow and present you with a bank note from me, requesting a very large sum of money. You must take the money and give it to her at once!'
"I stood spellbound gazing at my father as his speech in the dream continued,
" 'My son, you should know that since you, my only beloved son, married a non-Jewish woman and abandoned Judaism, it is only this woman's charity which saves me from the Gates of Purgatory. This woman has for years taken from her own funds to pay for Kaddish to be recited for the souls of those for whom no one says Kaddish.'
"He explained to me that for his soul to be thus comforted and for his salvation to continue, it was incumbent upon me to supply this good woman with the necessary money.
"You can imagine my enormous shock when the dream actually came true! When you entered the bank, I immediately recalled the dream. But when I looked at the promissory note and recognized my father's signature, the shock was too much for me, and that is when I fell to the floor! My father came from the other world to ensure that his soul would be elevated by the Kaddish which this selfless woman provided to him and to others as well."
After this extraordinary experience, the banker returned to Judaism and his wife became a righteous convert.
When the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe met Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld in Jerusalem, the two came to discuss this wondrous story.
Rabbi Sonnenfeld told the Previous Rebbe that he himself was one of the two students who witnessed the old man, the banker's father, signing the bank note to this charitable woman!
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1848 - 1932), the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, lectured every evening in a synagogue in Jerusalem. He would speak often about Moshiach's imminent arrival, and would inspire his listeners to anticipate his coming. Once someone asked, "Aren't you delaying Moshiach by talking about him? Afterall, our Sages have taught that Moshiach will only come when we're not thinking about him." Rabbi Sonnenfeld answered, "Even now we are distracted from thinking about Moshiach. The proof is that even if the most reliable person came right now and said that Moshiach is on the next street right here in Jerusalem, wouldn't you hesitate for at least a moment before you ran out to greet him?"