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by Rabbi Eliezer Wolf
What is a garden?
A garden is something very different from a field, a forest, a desert, or a jungle.
A garden denotes a place of serenity - manicured lawns, symmetrically designed plants, bustling color, delectable fragrances, and euphonious chirps and buzzes.
Walking into a garden elicits feelings of calm, security, happiness, purposefulness, and hope.
Upon entering His world for the very first time, G-d declared, "I have come in to my garden."
Sometimes the world appears to us like a jungle, filled with beastly depravity and disorder.
Sometimes the world appears to us like a forest, filled with towering obstacles and tangled hurdles that make our path confusing and difficult.
Sometimes the world appears to us like a desert, arid and tiring, and bereft of any inspiration or refreshment.
Sometimes the world appears to us like a fallow field, vast and bare, making our life feel lonely and futile.
But G-d created the world like a garden, filled with exquisite beauty and marvelous arrangement.
A garden is the world's natural state.
A garden vividly bespeaks of its owner who pays close attention to its needs; an owner who lovingly and meticulously designed it; an owner who continually and responsibly navigates its destiny; and an owner who purposefully ensures that each specimen grow to its fullest and fit in perfectly among all the other plants.
If we learn to view the world not as it necessarily appears, but rather as it intrinsically is, we will indeed see a splendid universe. A universe filled with purpose, opportunity, fairness, inter-connectedness, and happiness.
So the next time you see a (seeming) injustice in the world, whether to yourself, your beloved, your friend, or even to someone on the other end of the world, consider the following two things:
- In a garden, there is no chaos - everything is planned. Sometimes, a gardener needs to perform seemingly ruinous work like pruning and weeding, all for the garden's benefit.
- If indeed an unwanted species has encroached upon the garden, then we - the guardians of the world - must act swiftly to uproot the invasive thorn and to restore the garden to its intended glory.
Let's become cosmic gardeners in partnership with G-d - to learn how to appreciate a Divine garden, and to help restore our world's natural state.
Rabbi Wolf is the rabbi of Beit David Highland Lakes Shul in Aventura Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the splitting of the Sea. This miracle prepared the Jewish people for the giving of the Torah and the Final Redemption.
Concerning the splitting of the sea, the Torah tells us that Nachshon ben Aminadav risked his life to jump into the Sea. It was only after Nachson entered the Sea that the waters parted and the Jews were able to proceed.
Did Nachshon disregard his life by jumping into the sea? No!For Nachshon knew that G-d had taken the Jewish people out of Egypt for the sole purpose of giving them His Torah at Mount Sinai. Nachshon was guided by the desire to advance toward the Torah. It mattered not to Nachshon that a body of water obstructed his path; he jumped into the Sea.
Faced with a seemingly impossible situation the Jewish people had been of several opinions. Nachshon, however, was uninterested in any of their "options" - returning, waging battle or running away - for he knew that none of this would bring them closer to Mount Sinai. He was also not interested in arguments or calculations. There was only one solution: to go forward to Mount Sinai. And so he did so, with tremendous mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice).
The portion of Beshalach is generally read on the Shabbat preceeding or following the 10th of Shevat, the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The circumstances surrounding the splitting of the Sea contain a timeless lesson; so do the actions of the Previous Rebbe. For throughout his life the Previous Rebbe acted with mesirat nefesh and set an example for all future generations.
The Previous Rebbe did not specifically seek out mesirat nefesh; this was not his intent, as his sole objective was to spread Torah. He did not stop to consider if self-sacrifice was necessary, nor did he pay attention to the prevailing opinions and views of the other Jews of his time. To him, their arguments carried no weight at all. The only thing that motivated the Previous Rebbe was the need to get closer to Mount Sinai. Even if a "sea" stood in his way, he would jump in. What would happen next? That was G-d's concern, not his. This was immaterial to the Previous Rebbe. He simply did what he had to in order to reach Mount Sinai.
From this we learn a lesson to apply in our daily lives. Our function on earth is to serve G-d, to love His creations and bring them closer to Torah. Differences of opinion and approach are not our concern. Our only true goal is to draw nearer to Mount Sinai, and to do so without consideration for any obtacles that seem to obstruct our path.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1
by Rabbi Levi Wolff
The following is a personal story, something special that happened to me. I think about it each year.
It was in 1982, and I was about eight years old. The Rebbe devoted a long talk to a cryptic passage in Rashi's commentary to the weekly sidrah (Torah portion). That particular passage in Rashi discussed one of the differences that set Esau, the wicked, apart from his righteous brother, Jacob. The contrast in their worldview and moral pyramid lay in the way they treated their women and children; whilst Esau paraded first his wives and then his children, in an act which lent itself to promiscuity and lewdness, the more modest Jacob presented his family in the opposite order: first his children and then his wives.
The discussion was longer and deeper than that which my young mind could fully grasp, but I was able to get the gist of things.
The following day, while learning in yeshiva, we stumbled upon the story of Moses, the first leader of Israel. He was making his return to Egypt with his family, after a significant absence. The verse tells that he loaded "onto the donkey" his wife Tzipporah, and then his newborn children. A sudden light went off in my mind, as I noticed a seeming incongruence between this and what I had heard only the day before from the Rebbe himself. Here was Moses, a righteous person, behaving in the manner that was worthy of Esau - how could this be true?!
When my teacher could provide no answer to my query, he suggested I put the question in writing and offered to deliver it personally to the Rebbe's office, later that afternoon. I did as he said, and continued with my day.
That evening, around eleven o'clock, the phone in our home rang, and it was the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Benyamin Klein. My father, bewildered by the unexpected event, listened in awe as Rabbi Klein related that the Rebbe had just seen my letter and had personally given a response to be communicated back to me.
Beyond how honored and important I felt, that the Rebbe had answered my question, thinking back to this story I cannot but notice the powerful messages hidden within.
For one, the Rebbe, whose mailbox was the recipient of the highest number of private letters delivered in New York, had taken the interest, time and care to respond to a query posed by an eight-year-old child - and at eleven o'clock at night, no less! The meaning I always drew from this reflection is that the Rebbe wanted to give me the feeling that I mattered, my learning mattered and my questions were worthy of a reply.
Mine wasn't a burning question; the nature of my letter didn't have reverberations in the halls of power and could well have waited till the following morning. But the Rebbe didn't think so, he felt that if it was important to me, it was crucial to show that it was important to him too.
Even his fascinating answer exuded this keen sensitivity and personable approach; the Rebbe had explained that since the babies were in fact just born, it would be impossible to sit them on the animal without their mother being there to hold them. A simple technicality, a small nuance, but the Rebbe hadn't overlooked it.
Perhaps it was this seed planted in my young conscience that bore fruit years later, when my wife Chanie and I decided to join the Rebbe's army, an army of candles, bent on spreading the light of Torah and perpetuating his three-fold message of the love of the people of Israel, the love of Torah and the love of G-d.
From the height of his genius, the Rebbe spoke to each at his or her level, counseling and accompanying them through their difficult - as well as joyous - times. He had a warm word for the barren woman, as well as sound advice for the business entrepreneur. His smile healed the broken hearts of so many who came to his address to find solace and respite.
Serving at the helm of a worldwide movement, sought out and consulted on issues that would likely change the course of history, the Rebbe never lost sight of the individual, never dismissed any request for assistance as too trivial or insignificant. He saw that in the curiosity of an eight year old child lay an entire existence, and if fostered correctly it could well turn into a lifelong endeavor.
I hope to live up to the faith he has placed in me and fulfill the mission he has entrusted to me.
Rabbi Wolff and his wife Chanie are emissaries of the Rebbe in Sydney, Australia. Rabbi Wolff is the spiritual head of Sydney's Central Synagogue
Three years ago, Rabbi Sender and Sarah Gordon, Chabad emissaries in Ottawa, Canada, began pairing Canadian retirees with disadvantaged Israeli students who needed help with their English language skills. Today, 200 high school students and 200 volunteers use specially-developed curriculum based on Jewish topics, volunteers help Israeli students through 15-minute weekly Skype sessions. Students get to converse in English with their volunteers who, in turn, enjoy the company of Israelis young enough to be their grandchildren. What began with 10 students and 10 volunteers in Ottawa, is now available through Chabad centers in seven U.S. and Canadian cities.
Chabad of Solano County, based in Vacaville, California, has just purchased a 8,500 square foot complex, to be named the "Chabad of Solano Center for Jewish Life." The building, which already includes a synagogue, will be renovated to include a synagogue, kosher kitchens, kosher supermarket and café, dining hall, lounge, conference room, library, classrooms and offices. Plans also include an indoor playground and the first Jewish Children's Museum in Northern California.
Freely translated and adapted
25 Adar II, 5711 ,
There is a well-known statement of the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber, fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch), the anniversary of whose passing falls soon, that the role of his students is to become "lamps to diffuse light."
The words of tzaddikim (the righteous) are precise in all their details. This is especially so regarding statements by the Nesiim of the Jewish people concerning their disciples and concerning those who are connected to them. Hence, the term "lamps to diffuse light" is a guide, in several vital respects, to those who are connected with the speaker. Let us therefore consider a few of the characteristics of a luminous lamp:
The lamp itself is the source of the light - a luminary, albeit in miniature.
Moreover, a lamp is comprised of oil and a wick. Metaphorically, the oil represents the Torah and its mitzvos (commandments). The wick represents man - that is, the body, or, more correctly, the level of his soul called nefesh, which is "the body's partner."From a more inward perspective, this metaphor refers to the Divine soul that is vested in the animal soul.
Another characteristic of a lamp: when the wick is lit and becomes one with the oil, the light of the lamp is diffused in many modes of light. In general, there are two modes of light: "black light" and "white light," which represent respectively two phases in man's Divine service - elevating his soul and, reciprocally, drawing down spiritual light.
Finally, the light of a lamp is uniquely effective when one is searching among hidden cracks and crannies, probing the heart's innermost recesses.
The metaphorical messages of the above characteristics are clear and self-evident - but what matters most is their practical application. When one applies them to his life according to the directives of the Rebbe whose yahrzeit is being commemorated, one's inner lamp lights up the particular portion of the world's materiality that he is obligated to refine and elevate, and in particular, it lights up his own animal soul and Divine soul. This illumination is the ultimate purpose for which the soul descended to this world, and the ultimate purpose of the era of Mashiach and the Resurrection of the Dead depend on it. May this come speedily, in our own days, Amen.
From I Will Write it in Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, Sichos in English Publications
Adar I, 5711 
On the holy day of Shabbos, the tenth day of the month of Shevat (last month), the Lubavitcher Rabbi, the founder of our organization, passed away. He is no long with us in body, but he is with us in spirit more than ever before.
As you know, we have a body and a soul. The soul is the one that gives life to the body; the soul makes it possible for us to think, speak, and behave like human beings, and not like dumb animals. The body does not last forever, but the soul never dies.
The soul of our great and beloved Rabbi, his sacred memory be blessed, was not an ordinary soul. His soul was a central soul, a soul from which many, many other souls received inspiration and life.
The Rabbi loved everybody, but most of all he loved the children. His greatest concern in life was that all Jewish children should receive a proper Jewish education. He saw to it that you should have something good to read, something that would warm your little Jewish hearts and light up your Jewish homes.
We must know and remember always that in the same way that our dear and beloved Rabbi looked after all of us before, he will continue to care for us in the future, and now more than ever.
And so, dear children, you should remember that you must be better than ever before, for our beloved Rabbi loves you very much and wants you to be ever better Jewish boys and girls. It will give him much pleasure to know that you are learning and doing all the Mitzvoth which Jewish boy and girls should do, and he will pray for your good health and happiness, and for the good health and happiness of your dear parents and brothers and sisters.
When Rebbetzin Rivka was 18 year old, she fell ill and the physician ordered her to eat immediately upon awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before praying, so she prayed very early, then ate breakfast. When her father-in-law, the Rebbe, learned of this he said to her: "A Jew must be healthy and strong. The Torah says about mitzvot, 'Live in them,' meaning bring vitality into the mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful." Then he concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of praying rather than to pray for the sake of eating;" he then blessed her with long life.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In a renowned letter, the Baal Shem Tov describes an elevation of his soul to the chamber of Moshiach at which time he asked Moshiach when he would come. "When your teachings will become widely known in the world, and your wellsprings will be disseminated outward," Moshiach answered.
Thus, from its very beginning, bringing Moshiach has been an integral goal of the Chasidic movement.
From his earliest childhood, Moshiach and the Redemption were uppermost in the Rebbe's mind, as he once wrote: "From the day I went to cheder and even before that, there began to form in my mind a picture of the future Redemption, the Redemption of the Jewish people from their final exile..." Even before the age of three the Rebbe's young mind was already occupied with the Redemption. And this has been the Rebbe's focus ever since.
Preparing the world for Moshiach is thus integral to the entire Chasidic movement, particularly to Chabad-Lubavitch. Thus, once the Rebbe accepted the enormous responsibility of the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch, he stated in no uncertain terms the ultimate purpose of his leadership:
"This is what is demanded of each and every one of us of the seventh generation - and 'All those who are seventh are cherished': Although the fact that we are in the seventh generation is not the result of our own choosing and our own service, and indeed in certain ways perhaps contrary to our will, nevertheless 'All those who are seventh are cherished.' We are now very near the approaching footsteps of Moshiach, indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period, and our spiritual task is to complete the process of drawing down G-d's presence - moreover, the essence of G-d's presence - within specifically our lowly world."
These words were spoken in the Rebbe's first public discourse on the tenth of Shevat, 5711 (1951). The Rebbe completed the discourse by saying, "May we merit to see and be together with the Rebbe, down here in a physical body and within our reach, and he will redeem us."
So it should be with us.
Then Moses sang... - "Az yashir Moshe" (Ex.15:1)
The Hebrew word "yashir" is composed of the letters yud (the numerical equivalent of which is ten) and the word "shir" (the root word meaning "sing"). This alludes to the ten songs sung by the Jewish people in praise of G-d: the song at the Sea of Reeds; the song at the well; the song "Give ear, O ye heavens"; the song of Joshua; the song of Deborah; the song of Chana; the song of King David; the song of King Solomon; the song of Chizkiyahu; and the song that will be sung in the Messianic era.
And the angel of G-d that went before the camp of Israel removed and went behind them (Ex. 14:19)
When the Jewish people are worthy of G-d's benevolence they attain a level higher than the angels. The angel that until now had preceded them on their journey respectfully stood still and allowed the Children of Israel to pass on ahead.
This is my G-d and I shall glorify Him, my father's G-d and I shall exalt Him (Ex.15:2)
The Midrash states that at the splitting of the Red Sea, every Jew pointed with his finger and said, "This," for there was such a prophetic manifestation of G-dliness at that time that they were able to actually point to it. The Midrash also notes that the children born under Egyptian servitude were the first to perceive and recognize the Divine manifestation. "As in the days of your going out from Egypt, I will show wondrous things" we read in Michah. In fact, the Divine revelation of the Messianic Redemption will be even greater than the one in Egypt. Furthermore, just as at the time of the Egyptian exodus it was the children born in exile who recognized G-d first, so it will also be with Moshiach: the children born in the harshness of this bitter exile will be the first to recognize the Divine manifestation.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. II)
When Dina Chadad's father passed away suddenly at the relatively young age of 57, she was broken-hearted. She had been very close with him and his passing sent her into a depression. Being traditional Jews, her husband approached the chief rabbi of Tzfat, Rabbi Levi Bistritzky o.b.m., for advice. Rabbi Bistritzky encouraged her husband to send her on a women's trip to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that was being organized.
The trip was a turning point for Dina. "We were in Crown Heights for three weeks. Whenever I passed by the Rebbe for dollars, the Rebbe would give me a dollar for myself and he would hand me another dollar for my husband, wishing him a 'refua shleima,' a complete recovery.
"This happened several times even though my husband was as healthy as an ox! I asked one of the rabbi on our trip, Rabbi Eliezer Ceitlin, who told me that if the Rebbe is giving a blessing for a refua shleima, there are obviously things that he sees but we don't. "
At the end of the visit, Dina received a written answer to a letter she had submitted upon her arrival. At the end of the Rebbe's answer, Dina was amazed to see that the Rebbe again blessed her husband with complete health, though she hadn't mentioned her husband in my letter.
A year passed. One morning, Mr. Chadad didn't feel well and suddenly fainted. Dina called for an ambulance and they were taken to the emergency room. A few hours later, the doctor took Dina aside and told her that her husband's kidneys were functioing at a dangerously low level.
"Dialysis began within a few hours, but unfortunately his body did not respond well. The Rebbe's words from a year earlier now took on a new dimension. I called Rabbi Ceitlin," recalls Dina. "He reassured me that based on the Rebbe's blessings we could be absolutely certain that there would be a full and complete recovery."
Three months had passed since Mr. Chadad had first fainted, and his health was only getting worse. It was clear that if a kidney was not found soon, his medical condition would become a matter of life and death. Mr. Chadad's condition continued to deteriorate.
"I wrote a letter to the Rebbe requesting a blessing. A few days later, at two o'clock in the morning, our phone rang. On the line was the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner. He told me that the Rebbe had received my letter and had a message for me: 'You personally can be a good emissary to help your husband.' What did the Rebbe mean? I had been running around and doing everything possible to help him in his current medical condition for the past three months. What more could I do?
"Finally, I had an idea. In the morning, I called Professor Shapira, director of the transplant department at Beilenson Hospital in Petach Tikva and asked him if I could possibly be a match for my husband though we were not even distantly related.
"He said that he had never encountered such a case before, although there was a remote possibility that this could happen. I went in for the test and incredibly, the results showed that I was a 99% match. I was actually the first woman in Israel to donate a kidney to her husband. When the operation took place, all the newspapers carried the story in their front-page headlines. It has been 26 years now and thank G-d my husband functions perfectly well with my kidney!"
Two months ago, Rabbi Hirsh Leib Farber, the Rebbe's emissary in Gilo, Israel, decided to give his son Dovber a very special birthday gift. It was a letter of blessing from the Rebbe, dated 11 Kislev, 5746 (1985) written to Rabbi and Mrs. Farber when Dovber turned three years old.
In the opening lines, the Rebbe wrote the traditional text for a boy approaching this milestone. However, after the Rebbe's signature, there was another line that was unusual. "I read the line again and again," explains Dovber. "The Rebbe had added the following line: 'Regarding his question whether he should learn the art of becoming and working as a professional Torah scribe - as per the advice of a practicing rabbi in his city.'
Dovber showed the letter to his wife who was also amazed. Just a few weeks earlier, they had discussed how to improve their financial situation. Dovber's work as a private tutor left him a few hours a day free and they were considering the possibility of Dovber studying to become a scribe. A number of people with whom he discussed this idea were encouraing him.
Dovber showed the letter to his father. "I asked why I had never heard that he had thought about working as a scribe in his spare time. My father gave me a perplexed look. He didn't know what I was talking about. He had never considered learning to become a scribe!
Dovber showed his father the letter. "My father studied the letter. He didn't recall ever considering such a step or writing to the Rebbe on the subject - regarding himself or anyone else. Furthermore, he didn't remember ever noticing this last line."
The Farbers apparently received the letter, saw the traditional text in honor of a boy's first hair-cut at age three, and placed it in the special folder together with the other letters from the Rebbe. Continues Dovber, "Then, 29 years later, I, the person regarding whom this letter had been written as a boy of three, began considering whether I should learn to become a Torah scribe. The Rebbe had already answered me, and G-d arranged for me to receive the answer at just the right moment.
"Naturally, I did as the Rebbe instructed. I turned to a practicing rabbi and told him the whole story. He gave me the name of someone he knew personally with whom I could learn to be a scribe."
Condensed from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
The eternality of the Jewish soul within the context of our material world will be fully expressed in the Era of the Redemption, when the souls of all the Jews of all generations will be resurrected. Here too the analogy of a wedding can be used to described the unification of the body and the soul. The ultimate Redemption of our people and of the world at large is not a remote promise. On the contrary, the Jews of our generation have been granted complete atonement and are now at the highest pinnacle ever of our national history. All the Divine service necessary to bring about the Redemption has been completed. All that is necessary is that we open our eyes and perceive that the Redemption is indeed a reality.
(The Rebbe, 6 Shevat, 5772-1992)