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Even before you know what's inside the gift you say "thank you." Before you've tasted that heavenly-looking dessert the waiter brought, you murmur, "thanks."
And before you start your day, as soon as you realize that you are no longer in that delicious mode of sleep, you can say the Modeh Ani prayer: "I give thanks to You, living and eternal King, for having restored within me my soul, with mercy; great is Your trust."
Though we haven't rinsed our hands, washed our face, brushed our teeth -proscribed preparations for prayer - we can say this prayer.
Because, as Chasidic thought teaches, the "Modeh Ani" of the Jew - a Jew's very essence - is always pure and pristine.
The concept of expressing thanks to G-d is one of the fundamental principles of Jewish life. Thus we begin each day with an expression of thanks Modeh Ani - in which we gratefully acknowledge that G-d returned our soul. This, our first act of the day, serves as the foundation for all of our subsequent conduct.
It teaches us to be grateful, to take nothing for granted, to appreciate everything we have.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, was renown for spreading Jewish teachings even among small children. Before he became a rebbe, he served as a teacher's helper.
In fact, when the story of the Baal Shem Tov's life is related - before his scholarship, piety, unbounded love of all Jews, and miracles that he wrought are recounted - it is first told that he began as a teacher's helper. At that time, he would remind children to begin their day with praise of and thanks to G-d, by reciting Modeh Ani.
Through starting one's day with Modeh Ani, a Jew acknowledges G-d's sovereignty. In addition, it sets the tone for the whole day and for one's entire life.
It teaches us to be grateful from our earliest moment in our lives at the earliest moment in the day.
Jewish teachings explain that every night when one goes to sleep one's soul returns to its Divine source and gives an account of its activities that day.
In the prayer before going to bed we say, "Into Your hand I pledge my soul; You have redeemed me, G-d of trust."
A pledge is something the debtor gives to the creditor as security that the debt will be repaid. Usually the creditor will not return the pledge as long as the debtor still owes him money. But G-d is merciful; though every day we are indebted to Him, He returns our soul to us.
Our Sages also explain: When a person gives a pledge, even if it is a new thing, it becomes old and used by the time it is returned. But G-d returns our "pledge" new and polished even though it has been "used," and so it is written, "They are new every morning; great is Your trust."
The fact that we go to bed "dead tired" and wake up refreshed, returning from the unconscious world of slumber, is similar to the "revival of the dead" which will take place in the Messianic Era.
This daily experience strengthens our conviction in the "resurrection of the Dead," one of the 13 principles of Judaism.
And this adds further meaning to the words, "Great is Your trust," for we have absolute trust in G-d not only that He will return our soul in the morning, but also will return our soul into our body at the end of days, when all dead will arise from their "sleep."
Try getting into the habit of giving thanks, right from the very first moment of the day. Gratefulness goes a long way.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The end of this week's Torah portion, Chayei Sara, tells of the passing of Abraham and the order of succession of his descendants: "And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac." Isaac, Abraham's only son from his beloved wife Sara, was chosen to continue the new path he had forged in the service of G-d. The children of Abraham's concubines, however, received only a token of their father's wealth: "But to the sons of the concubines...Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son."Isaac was designated his father's heir, despite being younger than Ishmael and the others.
This week's Haftara contains a similar incident that occurred toward the end of King David's life. When Adoniyahu, David's eldest son, sought to usurp his father's throne, Batsheva reminded David of the oath he had made that Solomon, the younger son, would reign. King David agreed to honor the oath and Batsheva declared, "May my lord, the King David, live forever!"
What is the significance of both these choices? When Abraham designated Isaac his heir, he thereby bestowed upon him the special relationship he enjoyed with G-d, the essential "chosenness" he would pass on to his children after him. Abraham's choice of Isaac allowed every Jew to acquire that same eternal bond with G-d as his birthright, an immutable bond that can never be severed.
Similarly, Batsheva's declaration, "May my lord, the King David, live forever!" is an expression of G-d's promise that "the kingship will never be cut off from the progeny of David." Dominion over the Jewish people belongs solely to the descendents of King David through his son Solomon, ultimately one of whom is King Moshiach.
The common thread between these two incidents is the underlying principle that the actions of an immutable G-d are eternal and unchanging. Just as G-d Himself experiences no change, so too are His choices fixed and immutable. Batsheva's declaration, "May my lord, the King David, live forever!" will find ultimate fulfillment when King Moshiach arises and ushers in the Final Redemption.
Indeed, we find that the wholeness of the Jewish people is connected to the concept of kingship, for it was only after King David's descendants were chosen to rule that the Jewish nation was at peace, the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem and G-d's Divine Presence dwelt in the Holy Temple. Likewise, the Final Redemption of the Jewish people will only commence when the ultimate King of the House of David arises, to initiate the Ingathering of the Exiles and build the final and indestructible Third Holy Temple, speedily in our day.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher
From Eastern Europe to Owings Mills
by Allie Freedman
Rabbi Nachum Katsenelenbogen always knew his father was a hero. Arrested by the NKVD, predecessor to the KGB, in 1950, Moshe Katsenelenbogen spent seven-and-a-half years in a Soviet prison simply for being Jewish. Once he was free, he poured his heart into instilling a strong love of Judaism in his children.
As a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Owings Mills, Katsenelenbogen aims to bring his father's teachings to his Baltimore-area friends, students and congregants. When his father passed away on Sept. 3 at the age of 83, the rabbi began to reflect on his father's sacrifices. By keeping his faith under harsh circumstances, Katsenelenbogen believes his father helped ensure the spread of Judaism for future generations.
"My whole life, I dreamed about being a Chabad rabbi because of my father's unwavering commitment to Judaism," Katsenelenbogen, who directs Chabad of Owings Mills, said last week. "I try to pass on the lessons he taught me to the Baltimore Jewish community. He might be physically gone, but his story lives on."
Later this year, the Chabad center will be dedicating a new Torah scroll in honor of the late Katsenelenbogen, ensuring that his memory lives on as inspiration for Jewish learning.
"My father did not die for Judaism," said his son. "He lived for Judaism.
"My father was a walking, living Torah scroll," he continued. "When I thought about how to commemorate his life, the Torah just seemed like the most natural fit."
Katsenelenbogen's father devoted his life to defending his religion. Born in the Former Soviet Union, Moshe was part of an underground network of Jewish educators and activists coordinated by Chabad leaders. Coming from a Lubavitch family, his own father, Rabbi Michoel Katsenelenbogen, was one of the original students at Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim, the movement's flagship educational institution.
When Moshe was just 6, his father was arrested by the secret police and murdered shortly after. Despite his father's death, Moshe continued to learn in the underground system.
"The Chabad movement taught my father the entire Jewish calendar by heart," said Katsenelenbogen. "Many boys his age would learn arithmetic by going to baseball games. My father studied Jewish law in secret. He knew exactly [when Yom Kippur] fell, so he knew when to fast. He was fluent in the Jewish code of law."
Moshe's mother helped forge passports and Polish documents to help Jewish families escape from Russia. But his Jewish background and beliefs would lead him to jail.
After his arrest for refusing to attend a Soviet school and not testifying against his mother, he faced torture, physical abuse and starvation in prison. His only crime was that he was a practicing Jew.
"They told my father he had 90 months, and my grandmother was sentenced to death. They say 90 months rather than seven and a half years because psychologically, it sounds longer," said Katsenelenbogen. "In jail, they whipped him in front of his mother and gave him minimal food. They wanted to break his spirit. Instead, they made him stronger."
After he was released from jail, Moshe left the Soviet Union in 1971. Immigrating to London, he focused on igniting a passion for Judaism in his five children.
"My father's stories about jail truly inspired me to pursue a career in Jewish education," said Katsenelenbogen. "He used to share prison stories with me all the time. One of my favorite tales is his Passover story. In jail, they only feed you bread, sugar and water. Therefore, on Passover, he did not eat for eight days. He simply said eating was not an option. He was arrested for practicing Judaism, and there he is, in a Soviet jail cell, observing Jewish holidays."
From donning tefillin under the blankets to creating his own candles on Chanukah, Moshe created a portable Judaism. This Yom Kippur, Katsenelenbogen plans to use his father's life lessons as the inspiration for his High Holiday sermon.
"People do not want to hear a preacher, they want to hear a story," said Katsenelenbogen. "My father's story is real, and I think the Baltimore community can benefit from hearing about it. My father visited Owings Mills many times in his life and loved the community. When he died, thousands of Baltimoreans reached out to me. He might be one person, but his courage has inspired thousands from Eastern Europe to London to Baltimore."
With the pressures and distractions of today's society, Katsenelenbogen fears his father's generation may be forgotten.
"My father had such a strong perseverance," said Katsenelenbogen. "Even though we are not being killed by Stalin, we still face peer pressure every day. I take my [bar and bat mitzvah] students to meet Holocaust survivors and physically see their numbers. The previous generation fought so that we can celebrate Judaism freely. My father taught me well, and I want to teach my students well."
This article originally appeared in The Baltimore Jewish Times
Wherever We Go
"You Know My Friend Tzvi, when we're out for the day, I always have fun and learn on the way!" Join Benny and Tzvi on a brand new adventure, discovering how, wherever they go, they can act in a manner that exemplifies Jews as a "light to the nations" and glorifies G-d's name. Written by Chani Altein, illustrated by Marc Lumar, laminated pages.
Delightful storytelling, life-long lessons, and hallmark illustrations unite in this treasured collection of Michoel Muchnik Classics. The six volume set includes: Double Decker Purple Shul Bus, The Scribe Who Lived In A Tree, Tuvia's Train That Had No End, Dovid Comes Home, Hershel's Houseboat, Leah & Leibel's Lighthouse. In a special collector's box, published by Kehot Publications.
7th of Teveth, 5722 
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you for your letter of December 10th. I particularly appreciate your candor, which indicates, I hope, a closeness as well as a confidence, and at the same time enables me to reciprocate in kind. I therefore hope that you will not take amiss my pursuing the subject of our recent correspondence further, inasmuch as it is a matter of public concern and of the highest order. After all, Jews are characterized as a "stiff-necked " nation, which means that Jews have the gift of perseverence and tenacity. Moreover, I feel that some points may not have been adequately covered in my previous letters.
First, however, let me refer to the point which you make regarding the apparent discrepancy between the ban on "graven images," and the existence of the Cherubim, Lion, Ox, and other likenesses in the Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple]. Surely, if there had been any discrepancy, there would have been some reference on the spot, since the commandment against graven images and likenesses, as well as the commandment to make the Cherubim on the cover of the Holy Ark, are to be found in the very same Book of Moses. Similarly, King Solomon, who built the Beth Hamikdosh and included the said likenesses, could not have overlooked the possibility of a discrepancy. Nor would the Jewish people have accepted it, while at the same time carrying on a fight to eliminate the influences of idolatry of their neighbors, a fight which they carried on for hundreds of years after the erection of the Beth Hamikdosh. I cannot go into the explanation of the apparent discrepancy which you question, since the explanation can be found in the authoritative commentaries who deal with it and adequately explain why the Cherubim, etc., did not constitute any kind of conflict with the commandment against graven images, etc.
The reason I brought up the point of Aelia Capitolina is because the Roman Empire knew well that the most deadly blow it could deal to the Jewish people was to convert Jerusalem into a Roman city of idols, hoping that what they could not achieve even by the destruction of the Beth Hamikdosh and the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of Jews, they could accomplish by this measure aimed at the very heart of Jewish belief and religion.
Needless to say, I fully agree with you that the Torah is not confined to a body of laws and statutes, but contains also spiritual enlightenment, etc. Indeed, as my father-in-law of saintly memory often emphasized, the Torah embraces the whole life of the Jew, from the moment of his birth to his last breath, and it is called Toras Chaim, the Law of Life, in the sense that it is both a guide to the good life and also the source of life and expression of the living Jewish spirit. Within the framework of the Torah, therefore, there is ample room for such expression. As a matter of fact, which I believe we touched upon in our conversation, in the case of the majority of your works of art, there is no conflict with the Second Commandment, since they express symbolisms and ideas which are not incompatible with the Torah, and only a small proportion of your sculptures are subject to question in the light of the said Commandment.
The argument that the works of art represent a sublimity, etc., is irrelevant in this case. I can only illustrate this by a hypothetical case, such as if anyone would suggest to bring a Ballet into the Synagogue on the day of Yom Kippur, just before Neilah, on the ground that a Ballet is a source of sublime inspiration, etc. Whatever the merits of the argument, the "incongruity" is all too obvious. For the same reason (and others) even symbolique sculptures have no place in Jerusalem, the only city called Ircha - Thy City.
I must apologize for repeating myself, but I cannot refrain from emphasizing again the fact that the Holy Land is universally recognized as Holy, even by non-Jews, and within the Holy Land, the City of Jerusalem is called the Holy City. Millions of Jews still regard the City as holy, and pray daily for the return of the Shechinah [Divine Presence] to Jerusalem. This means that all these Jews are intimately associated with Jerusalem and consider it their city and to have a personal stake in it. Therefore, how can any individual, regardless of his own personal feelings, completely disregard and hurt the feelings of millions of others, all the more, in a matter which is of such sanctity and of such vital concern, at least to them? Obviously, the fact that the present government there endorses the project, does not in any way change the situation, for Jerusalem is the property of all Jews throughout the world, and no individual or group of individuals can impost their will upon others in a matter of such vital importance, regardless of the good intentions and motives. ...
I hope that you will reconsider your position in the light of the above, and may G-d grant you many happy and healthy years to serve the cause of traditional Judaism by using your Divinely given gifts to strengthen the eternal values of our people, in full harmony with the Torah, along the lines which we had occasion to discuss.
With kindest personal regards, and
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, known also as the Tzemach Tzedek was arrested 22 times during the Rabbinical conference in Petersburg, in 1843, for opposing the demands of the government regarding changes in education, etc. The minister in charge confronted him: "Is this not rebellion against the government?!" The Tzemach Tzedek answered: "A rebel against the government is liable to be punished by death of the body; a rebel against the Kingdom of Heaven is punishable by death of the soul. Now which is worse?"
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Torah portion is Chayei Sara - the Life of Sara. Generally, the name of the Torah portion is taken from the first few words of that portion, and it reveals much about the content of the portion.
This week's portion, however, at first glance seems to be different. It speaks of Sara's death and Abraham's purchase of a proper burial spot for her. It also discusses that Abraham sent his trusted disciple Eliezer on the mission of finding a wife for Isaac, and the subsequent marriage of Isaac to Rebecca. Why, then, is this portion, which deals not one iota with Sara's life here on earth, called the Life of Sara?
To this question the Rebbe brings the most exquisite answer. When speaking about life, life in its truest sense, and certainly the life of the first Matriarch of our people, we speak not of the transitory life of this world. We are, rather, indicating eternal life.
When a child continues in the righteous ways of his parents, the spiritual influence of the parents continues and endures forever, as the Talmud teaches: "As long as the offspring are alive, he is alive." As long as the offspring continue in the path of their parents, the parents are alive.
Since Isaac and his wife Rebecca followed in the footsteps of Sara, Sara truly remained "alive" in the most accurate sense.
May we all merit to have our children follow in the path of our righteous Matriarch Sara, thus assuring eternal life for ourselves and for them.
G-d had blessed Abraham in all things. (Gen. 24:1)
There are those righteous people whose main goal in life is to be whole and one with G-d. But this is not the way of the true tzadik. Indeed, the way of Abraham was to concern himself with "all things." He did not worry just about himself, but about others as well. And so he was blessed in a like manner.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev)
The man took a gold earring, weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets. (Gen 24:22)
The commentator Rashi explains that the half-shekel alludes to the half-shekel that each Jew donated to the Holy Temple, while the two bracelets allude to the two Tablets containing the Ten Commandments. With these gifts, Eliezer implied that when establishing a Jewish home, Torah and the performance of mitzvot form its pillars. The half- shekel illustrates the mitzva of charity, while the two bracelets, symbolizing the two Tablets, allude to the Torah itself which is included in the Ten Commandments.
And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife; and he loved her. (Gen. 24:67)
Rashi comments: "That is to say, 'And he brought her into the tent and, behold, she was like Sarah, his mother.' While Sarah was alive her Shabbat lights miraculously burned from one Friday to the next..." This exact same phenomenon happened with Rebecca's Shabbat lights. Rebecca was a minor when she married Isaac. She was therefore not obligated to fulfill the mitzva of lighting the Shabbat candles, especially since Abraham had been doing it since Sarah's death. However, Rebecca was not satisfied participating in the candle- lighting of Abraham. She herself lit the Shabbat candles. This is a clear indication to us that before marriage, and even before bat mitzva - from the age of three years - Jewish girls should light their own Shabbat candle.
One of the loyal chasidim of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, who was known as the Tzemach Tzedek, was a successful merchant in the city of Petersburg. Every year he would travel to the great fair which was held in Nizhni-Novgorod to make his purchases. He made it an annual practice to first visit Lubavitch to see the Rebbe.
While in Lubavitch he drank in the vibrant atmosphere of the Rebbe's court, and listened to words of Torah which would serve to enrich his spiritual life for the rest of the year. Then, he would make a detour and continue on to the town of Dobromishl. In that town lived the old rabbi who had been his teacher many years before. This old rabbi looked forward to the yearly visit of his former pupil, enjoying the lively company and the stories his guest brought from the Rebbe's court. It wasn't every day that he had guests, and it was a happy event in the old man's life.
One year the merchant's plans for his yearly circuit through Lubavitch were disrupted. One of his biggest customers had trouble raising the money for his usual order, and the merchant was forced to postpone his departure. Finally, he received payment, and with his business now in order, he was able to set off. Even though the fair was well under way, the merchant couldn't imagine missing his yearly visit to the Rebbe, and he headed, as usual, to Lubavitch.
The merchant was invigorated by the time he spent with the Tzemach Tzedek, and after a few days he prepared to continue on his trip. By this time he was becoming concerned about the business days he had lost at the fair, and he wondered if perhaps he should skip his usual visit to his old teacher. He felt guilt about not seeing the old rabbi, but figured that would be the only way to save time.
When he was about to take his leave from the Rebbe he consulted him about his decision. The Tzemach Tzedek answered him, "Since it has always been your custom to visit your teacher it is not proper to change now."
The merchant took his Rebbe's counsel to heart and headed immediately to Dobromishl where he was warmly received by his old teacher. The old man's joy couldn't be contained as he rushed about his tiny kitchen heating up his samovar and setting out a plate of warm bread and butter. The merchant begged his teacher not to bother, as he had to be on his way after the afternoon prayers, but the old man would not forego this pleasure.
As the merchant was completing his prayers, the sky darkened and soon the village was pelted with a fierce downpour. His desire to finally get to the Nizhni-Novgorod fair had become so intense that the merchant was prepared to continue his journey in spite of the weather. The old rabbi implored him to stay overnight, since the local roads became thick with mud after a heavy rain. With one look outside, the merchant realized that it would be impossible to continue and so, he reluctantly agreed to stay.
A next day brought fair weather, but the merchant awoke feeling very ill. His head throbbed and he felt as if a fire burned in his eyes. A doctor was summoned from the nearby town of Orsha, and he diagnosed the illness to be typhus. The old rebbe sent a message to the merchant's family requesting help in caring for the sick man. And in addition, a letter was sent to the Rebbe in Lubavitch, asking that he pray for the merchant. The man lay ill in the old rabbi's house for close to two months before he recovered enough to leave for home.
But first he went to Lubavitch to present the Tzemach Tzedek with his grievance. With tears running from his eyes the merchant entered the Rebbe's study and in a voice choked with emotion asked why the Rebbe had advised him to go visit his old teacher. Why, if he hadn't gone there and exposed himself to the terrible rain storm and caught a chill, he wouldn't have become so dangerously ill. So why had the Rebbe given him such advice?
The Rebbe looked at his distraught chasid and replied: "There is a teaching in the Talmud which says that 'A man's legs may be depended upon to take him wherever he is called to be.' This means that a man's feet will carry him to that place where he is destined to die, no matter where that is. But this verse may also be interpreted to mean that a man's feet will carry him to a place where there is someone to pray for him. Be grateful and know that your very life was saved by the prayers of your old teacher who entreated G-d on your behalf. He was able to intercede for you and save your life."
One day, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (later to become known as the Tzemach Tzedek) was still a young man, he was sitting with a group of Chasidim who were pondering the question, "Who knows when Moshiach is going to come?" He commented: "This kind of talk recalls the style of the gentile prophet Bilaam, who said (concerning the ultimate Redemption of Israel), 'I see it, but not now; I perceive it, but not in the near future' - as if the Redemption were far away. A Jew, though, should hope and anticipate every day that Moshiach will come on that very day."
(From Exile to Redemption)