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The woman in the bakery was puzzled by the fellow who entered the shop every morning.
Each day he asked for yesterday's bread, stressing that he did not want today's fresh bread. She sold it to him for a few pennies.
Convinced that the man was too poor to afford fresh bread, and being kind-hearted, the woman decided to give the man a nice surprise the following morning.
She prepared a loaf of fresh bread, cut it into slices and carefully buttered each slice. The woman then wrapped it in paper, as she usually did, and waited expectantly for her customer.
When the man entered the bakery at his regular hour and made his routine request, she handed him the package she had prepared that morning, smiling inwardly at the unexpected joy the man would feel when he opened his package of bread.
The next morning, our poor friend walked into the bakery with an angry look on his face. "What did you do to me?" he shouted.
"You caused me thousands of dollars worth of damage!"
The kind-hearted woman was stunned. For what reason did she warrant such an attack? What had she done?
"I am an architect," the man continued. "I've been working for over half a year on a new project on the south side of town. We draw our architectural plans on special paper with a special type of pencil. To make corrections or erase lines we use lumps of stale bread. Fresh bread does not erase, and worse, it make smudges.
"Yesterday, while I was preoccupied with my work, I tore off a small piece of the bread you had given me in order to erase something in a very important part of the plan. Suddenly, I saw bits of fresh bread and butter smeared all over the plan. Now I'm going to have to do the whole thing over from the beginning!"
Which one of us hasn't entertained the thought at one time or another, "If I were G-d, I would do things this way. If I were G-d, I would not have done that."
"If you were G-d," a chasid once answered another chasid making these very same comments, "you would have done everything exactly the same way."
"When I'm a parent, I'm going to let my kids eat candy a whole day," a little child says when his mother or father "cruelly" limits his consumption of sugar.
"When you're a parent, you'll do things exactly the same way," the parent says knowingly G-d, the Architect and Creator of the entire world, knows good and well what every individual and each entity, needs. G-d doesn't give us what we want, He gives us what we need.
If, out of seeming good-heartedness, we try to make changes and corrections in G-d's Torah - the draft for all humanity - we fail abysmally. Because only G-d knows when dry bread is needed and when fresh bread is appropriate.
If a child needs "tough love" and the parent is too lenient or indulgent to give the child what he truly needs, this is the opposite of kindheartedness. It is misplaced compassion.
Were we to go through the Torah, and, using our own intellect, decide which mitzva (commandmnent) is obsolete, which mitzva is too severe, which mitzva fits in with our understanding of goodness, or were to alter mitzvot so that they would conform to our interpretation of morality, G-dliness and kindness, we would be using fresh bread to alter the Divine plan for the world and for ourselves personally.
The Torah, like bread, is literally our staff of life. But only G-d knows when to nourish us with fresh-from-the-oven and when "day-old" is the proper food.
Adapted from The Nechoma Greisman Anthology
This week we read two Torah portion, Behar and Bechukotai. Bechukotai contains the curses and punishments to be inflicted on the Jewish people if they do not obey G-d. Even a casual reading of these misfortunes in the Torah makes our hair stand on end. Chasidic philosophy, however, teaches that by delving more deeply into the meaning of these curses we can understand that they are actually blessings.
Furthermore, these "curses" are not only blessings, but blessings of such a high order that they can only manifest themselves in their seemingly opposite form!
A perfect illustration of this concept is found in the Talmud. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai once sent his son to two Sages for a blessing. When his son returned he complained that the Sages had cursed him. "What did they say?" asked Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. "You shall sow, but not reap," answered the son. The father patiently explained that the rabbis had meant that he should grow to be the father of many children who would be healthy and not die during their father's lifetime. Likewise, every example the son gave of the rabbis' "curses" similarly contained great blessings.
But why did the rabbis go through the trouble of disguising their good intentions in such a convoluted manner? Chasidut explains that ultimate good is sometimes clothed in an outer garment of its exact opposite, precisely because it is too lofty to come into this world in any other form.
If, then, the rabbis' blessings were so lofty that they had to be "disguised" as curses, how did Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai recognize their true content?
Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, explains that everything we perceive as evil in this world is, in reality, so good that we cannot absorb it in its true form (much in the way that an intense light hurts the eyes if one looks directly at its source). This good therefore takes the form of human suffering, just as we avert our eyes from a brightness which is too intense.
This, however, is only true at the present time. When Moshiach comes, the concealed good hidden within our afflictions will be revealed for what it is - utter and absolute blessing.
A Jew must, therefore, always accept whatever is decreed from Above, for when Moshiach comes we will see that the suffering of the exile was in truth a good of such magnitude that it could only be bestowed in such a way.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai possessed a soul capable of discerning this truth even before the coming of Moshiach. Likewise, Chasidut affords us a "taste" of the Messianic Era, enabling us to understand these inner truths which will soon become apparent, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
When Rabbi Zushe Silberstein heard that the Jewish inmate standing before him in a Montreal jail was due to be released in just three days, he didn't hesitate.
"My daughter is getting married this weekend," he said. "I would be honoured if you could attend the wedding."
The prisoner stared at him with unbelieving eyes, certain he had misheard. A rabbi inviting a newly released prisoner to a family wedding? It seemed impossible. But in the next breath, Rabbi Silberstein was offering to help arrange a suit if needed. It was clear his invitation came from the heart.
The conversation between the two men occurred two years ago, and that weekend, the ex-convict did indeed attend the wedding.
"No one knew where he came from, and at the wedding he danced with presidents of synagogues, family and friends, just like anyone else," Rabbi Silberstein recalls. "At one point he approached me, clearly emotional, asking what kind of gift he could give the bride and groom. I told him, "The gift you'll give will be a promise that never again will you go back to jail.' He gave that gift and he's leading a straight life now."
The encounter was nothing extraordinary for Rabbi Silberstein, who heads Chabad Chabanel in Montreal and regularly visits Jewish inmates in Quebec jails. "We bring them food and sandwiches, we daven (pray), put on tfillin with them and celebrate Jewish holidays with them," he says. There's a seder at Pesach, a Megillah reading on Purim, menorahs on Chanukah and services on Rosh Hashanah.
But it's not just about pushing spirituality, he insists.
"My main thrust has always been to tell these marginalized Jews, 'You're not alone, you're not forgotten. There's someone out there who cares about you.' We're there to comfort, to advise them and to show them the Jewish community cares about them... Chabad is at the forefront of this care, here and everywhere else," Rabbi Silberstein says.
Fifteen years ago, the rabbi founded Maison Belfield as a halfway house for up to six men at a time, offering newly released Jewish inmates shelter, food, clothing, therapy and reintegration assistance. Aiding Jewish prisoners is a consuming task and one he takes seriously.
"The Rebbe teaches us not to forget any Jew, no matter where she or he may be," he explains.
"If there's a Jewish person in need, we must care for them. It's why my children and I have more than once travelled 14 hours to help one single Jew in jail. My Shabbos table often has former inmates gathered around it."
Over the 30 years Rabbi Silberstein has been involved with Jewish prison chaplaincy, he's seen all kinds of Jews behind bars, "from a prominent lawyer to children from dysfunctional homes to people with substance abuse issues and those who are highly affluent," he says. "Nobody is immune to falling into this kind of situation."
He refused to disclose the number of Jews presently incarcerated in Montreal, saying only "one is too many" and acknowledging that High Holiday services and Passover seders in the jails see an attendance of up to 10 people.
Funding for visits to Jewish inmates and to support the expenses of institutions such as Maison Belfield in Montreal is direly needed, Rabbi Silberstein says.
"Prayer books cost money and so does the seder, the tfillin and the food we bring to Jewish inmates each week," he says. "Our halfway house is also an expensive proposition, with a mortgage and heating to be paid and the costs of regular living supplies in addition to food, clothing and therapy."
Chabad of Richmond, B.C., recently replaced its High Holiday prayer books and was looking for a new home for its several hundred older versions, which were still in great condition. When Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman posted on a Chabad site that he was ready to pass them on, the first request came not from Canada, but from Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman in Illinois.
The founder of the Hinda Institute (formerly known as the Jewish Prisoners' Assistance Foundation), Rabbi Scheiman's organization aids families of Jews incarcerated, arranges visitation for incarcerated Jews in Illinois jails and helps with their re-entry process once they are released. He jumped at the opportunity to receive the machzorim. "We estimate there are up to 150 Jews incarcerated in the state of Illinois and these High Holiday prayer books are so important," he reflected. "For Jewish inmates, Rosh Hashanah is a time in their life when they're very open and repenting for mistakes they've made in their lives. The prayer books are an extremely generous contribution."
In general, Jewish prisoners are very marginalized within Jewish communities, sometimes even demonized, Rabbi Scheiman says. "It's even worse than being forgotten - they and their families are sometimes shunned by the community." He works closely with the Chabad-affiliated Aleph Institute, an American organization founded in 1983 and one that has branches in many different states. One of its missions is to provide professional services to nearly 4,000 Jewish men and women in U.S. federal and state prisons and their approximately 25,000 spouses, children and parents left behind.
Rabbi Menachem Matusof, head of Chabad in Alberta, has visited Jewish inmates in Alberta jails for the past 27 years. He estimates there's six to 12 incarcerated Jews in his province at any given time and finds funding a challenge. "The visitations take time and the travel expenses mount, books for inmates cost money and the process of getting security clearance each year is demanding," he says.
He describes most of the Jewish inmates he visits as "sweet, wonderful people who unfortunately got caught in bad situations. It's not our place to judge," he says. "We need to reach out and help people wherever they are."
Excerpted from the Canadian Jewish Times. Read the whole article at cjnews.com/news/cover-story-jews-jail
Rabbi Avremi and Esther Hartman will soon be moving to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where they will open a new Chabad Center. The chabad Center will serve the local Jewish community and tourists. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and is the economic center of the country.
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 print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5734 
Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska
Due to a very crowded schedule, this is my first opportunity of congratulating you on your extraordinary Zechus [privilege] of initiating the project of the first Mikveh [ritual bath] in Anchorage for the Alaskan Jewish community, which you accomplished, with G-d's help, as I am informed by our mutual friends, the Rabbonim [distinguished rabbis] who flew in to participate in this great event.
As for the importance of this matter, I need hardly emphasize it to you, since your own initiative is best proof of being fully aware of it.
However, on the basis of the dictum of our Sages, "Encourage the energetic," I wish to express my confident hope that you are doing all you can to make the Mikveh a busy place, frequented regularly not only by the women who directly benefit from your good influence but also by their friends and acquaintances who will be induced by them to follow their example. And while this kind of religious inspiration is a "must" wherever Jews live, it is even more so in the City and State where the Mikveh has just been established for the first time. It is well to bear in mind that a "Jewish heart is always awake" and responsive to Torah and Mitzvos.
It is significant in this case that the one who merited the great Zechus of establishing the Mikveh is a person in military service. For, military service, by definition and practice, very aptly illustrates the basic principle of commitment to Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], namely, na'ase ("we will do," and then) v'nishma ("we will understand").
Moreover, the soldier's duty to carry out the orders of a commanding officer and carry them out promptly and to the best of his ability, is in no way inhibited by the fact that in civilian life the soldier may be vastly superior to his commanding officer in many respects. Nor does such a circumstance diminish in the least the soldier's self-esteem in obeying the order. On the contrary, by not allowing any personal views to interfere with his military duties, he demonstrates his strength of character and integrity.
The same is true in the area of Torah and Mitzvos. One may be a very rich man - in the ordinary sense, or rich in knowledge of the sciences, or in other achievements in public life. Yet, when it comes to Halachah, the Law of Torah conduct, he accepts it with complete obedience and dedication, on the authority of a fellow-Jew who had consecrated all his life to Torah study and Torah living and is eminently qualified to transmit the "Word of G-d-the Halachah."
A further point which characterizes military discipline also has a bearing on the subject of Torah and Mitzvos. In the military, no soldier can claim that his conduct is his personal affair; nor can he take the attitude that there are many other soldiers to carry out military assign-ments, but he will do as he pleases. For it has often been demonstrated in military history how one action of a single soldier could have farreaching consequences for an entire army and country.
Every Jew is a soldier in the "Army of G-d," as is often emphasized in this week's Sidra [Torah portion] - kol yotzei tzovo, "everyone going forth as a soldier." And he is bound by the same two basic rules: To carry out G-d's commandments promptly and fully, without question (na'ase before v'nishma), and to recognize his responsibility to his people ("All Jews are responsible for one another"), hence the consequences of one good deed. To quote the Rambam: "Every person should always consider himself and the whole world as equi-balanced. Hence, when he does one Mitzvah, he tips the scale in favor of himself and of the whole world" (see it at length in Hil[chos] Teshuvah 3, hal[achah] 4).
May you go from strength to strength in all that has been said above, in all aspects of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which includes also influence to promote among non-Jews the observance of the basic Seven Mitzvos, with all their numerous ramifications, which are incumbent upon all man-kind and the foundation of human society.
At this time before Shovuos, I wish you and all our brethren at the Base as well as the community, a happy and inspiring Festival of Receiving Our Torah, with the traditional Chasidic blessing - to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness.
With esteem and blessing,
There are four [character] types among people...He who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is pious.... (5:10)
The mishna is talking about a person who may not have the financial means to give generously. Nevertheless, while giving the little he can, he bolsters the spirits of the poor person by explaining that even the little which he himself owns belongs equally to the poor man. This attitude is sufficient to have him termed pious.
(Sichos Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Re'eh, 5739)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday is the first day of the month of Sivan. On this day, over 3,300 years ago, the Jewish people came to the wilderness of the Sinai desert and encamped there ready to receive the Torah.
The Torah tells us, "In the third month after the departure of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on this day they came to the wilderness of Sinai. They had departed from Refidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness. Israel camped there opposite the mountain."
Interestingly, the use of the word "camp" the second time here is in singular form in Hebrew, though still speaking about all of the Jewish people.
The singular form of the verb is used because the Jewish people were united as one - "like one person with one heart" our Sages tell us. And it was precisely this unity that prepared and allowed the Jewish people to receive the Torah and experience the revelation of G-dliness on Mount Sinai.
The unity of the Jewish people preceded the revelation of the Torah. Uniting our people today can and should be a preparation for the Final Redemption when we will have the ultimate revelation of the goodness and holiness of every single Jew.
The Rebbe expressed this concept in a talk a number of years ago. "The Redemption will unify all of Israel, from the greatest to the smallest. For not a single Jew will remain in exile: 'You, the Children of Israel, will be gathered in one by one.' Moreover, the multitudes who will then be gathered in, are referred to in the singular: 'A great congregation will return - in the singular - here.'
"In preparation for this state, one should make every endeavor to unify all Jews, in a spirit of the love of a fellow Jew, and of the unity of all Israel."
For the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai there had to be unity of the Jewish people. And as a preparation for the revelation of the new and deeper Torah which will be revealed in the Messianic Era we would do well to heed the Rebbe's words and work towards unity and love of all Jews.
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments...I will give you rains in their due season, and the earth shall yield its produce, and the tree its fruit (Lev. 26:3-4)
How do we walk in G-d's statutes? asks Rashi. By studying His Torah, he concludes. Rabbi David of Kotsk once commented on the verse, "You should believe when one tells you, 'I have toiled and I have succeeded.'" He explained: Something a person achieves by dint of his own labor will endure, but something acquired too easily will not last. Just as effortlessly as it was won will it disappear. That is why our Sages urge us to toil night and day in our Torah study - so our learning and knowledge will be retained.
"The word 'im' ('if') is used to imply pleading and entreaty," the Talmud states, teaching us that G-d pleads, as it were, with every Jew: "Please walk in My statutes! Please keep My mitzvot!" G-d's request also endows us with the strength to overcome all difficulties that might stand in the way of observing Torah and mitzvot.
As Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator explains, this refers to the mitzva of learning Torah. For the more Torah knowledge one acquires, the easier it is to observe the commandments, as Torah study itself saves a person from the Evil Inclination.
Why does the Torah devote so much detail to the physical reward for observing mitzvot? Isn't the spiritual benefit far more important? And aren't we really supposed to observe the Torah's laws without regard for reward, but simply because G-d wants us to? Most of us have not yet reached a state in which the promise of spiritual reward is greater motivation than physical reward. The Torah therefore goes to great lengths to describe the physical blessings to which all can relate. For the same reason, our Sages devoted much detail to the physical wonders and miracles that will take place in the Days of Moshiach. Although the ultimate good will be the open revelation of G-dliness, our appreciation of this will not be immediate. Rather, the world will have to first "mature" over a period of time in order to recognize this fact.
(Sichot Kodesh, 5751)
Reb Zalman Senders was one of the prominent chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. He was a very successful merchant who was openhanded in his philanthropy with both family and strangers. Then, suddenly his business dealings began to fail one after the other. Things finally came to such a terrible point that he became completely bankrupt.
His debtors swarmed around him demanding repayment, and his problems overwhelmed him. To complicate things further, he had two daughters of marriageable age as well as several poor relatives who also needed suitable matches. What could he do? He decided to take his problems to his rebbe, and so he set out for Liadi.
He arrived late in the evening, and after reciting the prayers with a minyan (prayer quorum), he sat down to wait his turn for a private reception with the Rebbe. When he was finally ushered into the Rebbe's study he poured out his heart, relating all that had befallen him, how all of his various business endeavors had failed and left him penniless.
"Rebbe," he said, "if it is will of Heaven that I be reduced to poverty, I am ready to accept the decree with love, but if I am unable to pay off my debts and marry off my daughter and the other young girls who are looking to me for their salvation, then I cannot accept it. For in that case it would be a desecration of the Divine Name (Chilul Hashem). It is one thing if G-d has decided to punish me in this manner, but why should He do it in a way that brings shame to His honor? The one thing that I ask is that I be allowed to pay all of my creditors and find suitable matches for my daughters and young relatives. After that, I am willing to live in poverty forever, if that is the will of G-d."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was listening intently to Reb Zalman Senders' recitation of his terrible problems. When it had finished he looked deep into the eyes of his brokenhearted chasid and said: "You certainly know how to talk about all the things that you need, but you have no interest whatsoever in what you might be needed for!"
Poor Reb Zalman Senders felt as if he had been pierced through the heart by his Rebbe's words. He gasped inaudibly and fell down in a faint. Chasidim, hearing the thud on the floor, rushed over to him to try to revive him. One offered water, another, vodka, but when Reb Zalman regained consciousness he had no need for anything. When he rose to his feet he was radiant with joy and infused with a new approach to life.
His put all of his problems behind him and instead focused his energy into learning Torah, both the revealed and the mystical aspects. He attended every lecture that was given, prayed with great fervor. All of his actions were infused with the deep-felt happiness and contentment of a man who is at peace with his lot.
The following Shabbat, Rabbi Shneur Zalman delivered his lecture on Kabbalistic concepts. He also used the occasion to pray on behalf of his chasid, Zalman Senders who sat listening to the Rebbe's every word. It was as if the Rebbe's prayers entered Reb Zalman's heart even as they ascended to the higher realms, for in the course of his stay in Liadi, Reb Zalman attained the strength to overcome all of his difficulties.
It was one week later that the Rebbe blessed him and instructed Reb Zalman to return to his home. Upon his arrival he resumed his normal routine and sure enough, his business began to pick up. Within a relatively short length of time, he had rebuilt his life and was thriving even more so than before.
When word reached Rabbi Shneur Zalman about the good fortune his chasid was once again enjoying he quoted a passage from his masterwork, The Tanya, in reference to the subject of trials and tribulations: "When one is at any time bothered by mundane worries,...it is the appropriate time to transform the sadness by becoming a 'master of accounts' (spiritual 'accounts'),...and to act on the counsel of the Sages' to constantly excite the Good Inclination against the Evil Inclination. In that way he will eliminate the melancholy engendered by the mundane problems, and then, he will attain true joy."
The Midrash states that Moses asked G-d, "In what merit do the Jews deserve to be redeemed from Egypt? G-d replied, "In the merit of the Torah that they are destined to receive." How could the merit of the future acceptance of the Torah help them in their present situation? Rather, they longed each day for their redemption so that they could receive the Torah - and the merit of this yearning brought about their Redemption. The same is true now: The merit of our yearing, longing, and praying for the final Redemption and for the revelation of the Torah of Moshiach is in itself sufficient merit to bring about our final Redemption.
(The Rebbe, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach UGeula by Rabbi Dovid Dubov)