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"What you put in the pot is what you'll get out." This oft repeated adage makes a pretty strong statement and it can be applied to nearly every aspect of our lives, especially our interpersonal relationships.
In the darkest, most cobwebby recesses of your memory, do you recall the story of "Stone Soup?" It's a tale of international renown and it perfectly illustrates the above mentioned statement. In short: Two weary, hungry travelers stop in a town where no one will give them a meal. No problem. They'll make a hearty pot of stone soup, right in the village square. "Could we please borrow a big pot from someone?" they inquire. "We'll fetch the water, collect the wood, gather the choicest stones, and share our unique soup with all of you."
A big pot appears. The water boils, the stones are added and the "chefs," now being watched by all the townspeople, taste the broth. "Delicious," they exclaim. "But oh, wouldn't it be even better with an onion added for flavor," they comment to each other. An onion is promptly pulled out of a peasant's apron pocket and added to the unusual soup.
This scene repeats itself with carrots, potatoes, turnips, salt, and even a few bones and a bit of meat. When everyone is invited to join in and taste the soup, they murmur their amazement that such delicious fare was created from mere stones!
"Fools," we say about the townspeople. For even as children we knew that what you put in the pot is what you get out.
How often do we take the time to think about what we've added to the various pots in our lives to assure us they'll be delicious and satisfying. Concerning relationships-with friends, relatives and co-workers-it's obvious that we won't get anything out of a relationship if we don't put in time, energy, caring.
In truth, laws of logic insist that we put more into the pot than we expect to get out to account for evaporation, "tasting," and sneaky nibblers. If you're hoping to cook up a good relationship, You have to watch it carefully lest it evaporate into nothing, "taste" it once in a while to make sure it's just right, and add a little bit of this and that, maybe even something new once in a while to spice it up.
There's another "pot" in our lives that is often, unfortunately, put on the back-burner. What can we hope to gain from Judaism, how do we expect it to be nourishing for us, our children, and future generations if all we are willing to toss in are a few choice stones? The nourishing aspects of Judaism go far beyond kugels, matza ball soup, and latkes. Our beautiful, rich religion, which has stood the test of time for thousands of years, can sustain us in ways many of us never imagined possible. But, what you put into the pot is what you'll get out.
In a few weeks, during Chanuka, we'll be singing Maoz Tzur - Rock of Ages. G-d, the Rock of Ages, the choicest of "stones" has given us the water - for water is symbolic of Torah. He has placed within each Jew the spark of a holy soul which can be fanned into a blazing flame. It is up to us to add the rest of the ingredients to make a delicious, hearty, and unique soup.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei, recounts how Jacob leaves his father's home in the land of Israel, goes to Charan, a city in the Diaspora, where he marries, raises a family, and amasses wealth. After a sojourn of 20 years, he seeks to return, and collects his family and possessions and journeys back to the Land of Israel.
Without discounting the narrative's historical truth, it can also be understood as an analogy. Jacob serves as an analogy for the soul, the land of Israel for the spiritual realms, and Charan, for our material world.
The soul is an eternal spiritual entity, "an actual part of G-d." And yet, it is forced to abandon the revelation it experiences in the spiritual realms and descend to this material world. Why? To get married, raise a family, and amass wealth. And then, after many years pass, the soul returns to the spiritual realms?
If the soul begins in the spiritual realms and ends in the spiritual realms, and its fundamental identity is spiritual, why is it so necessary for it to descend to this material realm? Is getting married, raising a family, and amassing wealth that important?
Were the soul to be concerned with its own satisfaction alone, then it would be better for it to remain in the spiritual realm. There it would be encompassed by revealed G-dly light at all times. But there is something more important to the soul than its own satisfaction, and for that reason it descends to this material world.
The soul is sent into this world with a mission. G-d wants man to improve upon His creation. He created the world with a G-dly potential, but that G-dly potential is not openly revealed. It is left for man to "Know Him in all your ways," and to make the G-dly potential that is hidden in this world openly manifest. This mission is what propels the soul into this material realm.
This is why getting married, raising a family, and acquring possessions are so important. G-d is not interested only in the way we study or pray. If all He wanted from us is to perform spiritual activities, He could have left the soul in the spiritual realms. G-d made the soul descend so that it becomes involved with other people and with the material environment it is placed. On this plane, it must look beyond the physical and appreciate that every entity has a spiritual purpose and do what it can to insure that this purpose is realized.
On the other hand, this emphasis on material activities is not to the exclusion of prayer and study. Without them, we would not have the awareness to appreciate an entity's spiritual purpose, or the inner strength to pursue that purpose despite our material tendencies. That is why our sages emphasize that Jacob spent 14 years immersed in study before setting out for Charan. He needed - as do we his spiritual heirs - this positive influence to empower him to meet the challenges he would face in the long years in Charan.
From Keeping in Touch, adapted by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos in English.
Surprise Birth in Barcelona
by Hila Bonen
For years, even scheduling an afternoon coffee break with my childhood friends was mission impossible. But when our 30th birthdays were coming up, we decided to celebrate with a weekend trip outside of Israel. After some planning we chose our destination - Barcelona, Spain.
Happy and excited, we left Ben Gurion airport, finding it hard to believe that our plan was finally taking shape. My husband would take care of our three-year-old son Yahav and I was not at a point in my pregnancy yet when it was considered unsafe to travel. We landed in the evening.
After a short rest in my hotel room, I got out of bed and realized my water had broken. At that moment, I felt like I was entering into the eye of the tornado. A quick trip to the nearest hospital confirmed what I already suspected - my short weekend trip was about to turn into a long stay.
I was hospitalized on strict bed rest, with minimal command of Spanish, unable to communicate with the nurses and far from my loved ones.
My mind was overflowing with questions: Why? How? When will this nightmare end? What will happen to my unborn baby, and to my little son in Israel? How will I manage so far from my child, husband, family and daily routine?
As soon as I told my husband what had happened, he contacted the Chabad House in Barcelona and reached my angel, Nechama Libersohn. Within two hours of receiving the call, Nechama sent me kosher food for Shabbat, candles and wine.
As soon as Shabbat ended, Nechama came to visit me at the hospital - hugging, encouraging and reassuring me that G-d willing everything would work out for the best. At that moment I no longer felt alone. Nechama was with me.
A week later, on January 15th, I had an emergency caesarean section and at 26 weeks I delivered my little Mia, who weighed only 850 grams.
From the first moment I met her, Nechama reflected to me everything that is good in the Jewish people, all the values on which I grew up in my parents' home: Giving without expecting anything in return, and a deep commitment to help any Jewish soul, no matter whom or when or where.
Nechama treated me like I was her little sister. She spent hours talking to me, helping me to relax and forget the situation I was in, far from home and family with a little premature baby. At every opportunity, Nechama prayed for Mia's health while taking care of all my physical needs. She brought me hot, delicious meals and took care of my laundry. Moreover, she did many extras just to help cheer me up - like inviting me to Shabbat dinner or to bake challah with her wonderful family. My husband, Yuval, flew back and forth from Israel a number of times during this ordeal, but when he could not be there with me, Nechama was my family.
I quickly discovered that taking care of me was just one item on her busy schedule. Nechama does not rest for a second, and in addition to educating and raising her children with love, she is devoted to her community. She arranges programs for women, holiday meals, bar and bat mitzvas, Hebrew school on Sundays for the children of the community, among many other projects.
But her good deeds and giving don't end with the local Jewish community. Barcelona is a well-known tourist attraction, and there are hundreds or thousands of Israelis or Jews from all over the world visiting at any given time. More than once it has happened that a tourist got stuck there with a health problem, just as it happened to me. They feel totally lost and helpless, until their story reaches the Chabad House. Immediately they find a lifeline and the entire burden is lifted from their shoulders. The Shluchim (Rebbe's emissaries) lovingly attend to the problem, down to the smallest details. Their feelings of loneliness and panic vanish, knowing they are safe and in good hands.
During the time I was there, I was a witness to one such story. A tourist arrived in Barcelona for a two-day visit when he began to have heart trouble and had to be hospitalized for a procedure. This happened during Purim. The hospital was far from the Libersohn's home, but Nechama did not neglect a single detail of the mitzva (commandment). In addition to visiting and serving as a translator for the hospital staff, Nechama also took care of Shabbat meals and made sure he heard the Megilla. There are many such "cases" that Nechama is involved with and she does it all with warmth and love.
What impressed me the most was Shabbos with the Libersohn family. Every Friday night after services in the Chabad House, their house fills up with 50 or 60 guests who come home with the Rabbi for the Shabbat meal. There is a very touching ambience. Every Friday the tables are set beautifully with delicious food and lots of different dishes to suit the tastes of all their visitors who come from a wide range of backgrounds. The food is prepared with much thought. We all unite around the Shabbat table to enjoy a luxurious meal and to hear words of inspiration from the rabbi and his children in both Hebrew and Spanish. Sitting in the Libersohn home I truly feel how all Jews are connected and responsible for one another.
I have never encountered a woman with such "talent" in giving, who dedicates her life for others and does it all with a smile, making you feel like you are the only person in the world she is worrying for.
I spent three months in Barcelona until my baby was well enough to fly back to Israel. I owe the world to Nechama. I had always heard of the activities of Chabad but I had never been exposed firsthand to the power of the Jewish soul. They helped me in my worst time, so far from home. Nechama filled me with strength that enabled me to get up each morning and face the day. She rescued me from sinking into an emotional abyss, and helped me get through this journey with her strong belief in G-d. She kept assuring me that G-d tests only those who can stand up against life's difficulties. I only hope that one day I can return to her only a little bit of what she did for me. Thank you!
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Rabbi Shlomo and Shoshi Litvin recently arrived in Lexington, Kentucky, to establish a new Chabad House at the University of Kentucky.
Rabbi Meir and Sara Simon have moved to Lone Tree, Colorado, a city in south Denver, to support the expansion of year-round Teen and Pre-teen programs at Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver.
New Edition of Kehot Chumash
The interpolated translation of the new Synagogue Edition of the Kehot Chumash enables the reader to more easily understand the text as Rashi explained it, and as the Rebbe elucidates Rashi's commentary. Hundreds of Chassidic insights culled from the Rebbe's works and those of his predecessors supplement the translation. Each Torah portion is preceded by a brief introduction that highlights the weekly theme. Introductions also come before each Haftarah. Published by Chabad House Publications and Kehot Publication Society.
From a letter of the Rebbe 15 Kislev, 5734 (1974)
Pursuant to the letter of the beginning of last month, the content of which was based on the general instruction and culminating point of the month of Tishrei, namely, the message contained in the phrase, "And Yaakov [Jacob] went on his way:" [Gen. 32:2]
Bearing in mind that each letter and word of the Torah is a world full of meaning and instruction, there is a need to elaborate on the concepts contained in the said three Hebrew words:
And Yaakov: It is well known that the two names of our patriarch, Yaakov (Jacob) and Yisroel (Israel), are quite different. The name Yaakov was given at birth, whereas Yisroel was bestowed later, after our patriarch had fought "with angels and with men, and prevailed."
The name Yaakov is associated with ekev - heel - which is the lowest and last part of the body, and wherein there is hardly any distinction between one person and another. The name Yisroel, on the other hand, has to do with leadership and mastery. In fact, when the Hebrew letters are rearranged, they spell li rosh - I am the head. The head, of course, is the highest part of the body, wherein the essential differences (physical and spiritual) between individuals are located, viz. facial features, voice, looks, and intellect.
Now, the significance of Yaakov, in the above "instruction" is that it refers to the Divine mission given to every Jew, without exception, from birth, while still in the state of "Yaakov," and at the beginning of his Divine service. From this starting point, the mission is to be fulfilled in a manner containing the following elements:
Went on - implying true locomotion, i.e. leaving one place (and spiritual state) completely behind to go to another, more desirable place.
Parenthetically, this is the reason why angels are called omdim - stationary - for although "they fulfill the Will of their Maker with awe and fear, and praise G-d in song and melody" which is their form of advancement to higher states, there is no complete departure and change involved in their nature, hence this cannot be termed perfect "going."
Only man is called mehalech, a "walker," for his task is to go ever higher, even if his previous spiritual station is satisfactory. Yet, to remain in the same state will not do at all. His progression must involve a change, to the extent that his new spiritual state is incomparably higher than his previous one, however good it was, and he must thus continue on the road that leads to G-dliness, the En Sof, the Infinite, as indicated further.
His way - the King's Way, the way of the Supreme King of the universe. The preeminence of a perfect way, as has been pointed out, is that it links the remotest corner with the royal palace in the capital city. It is a two-way road, leading from the palace to the remote corner and from the remote corner to the palace.
This is how the service of every Jew, man and woman, should be. One must not be satisfied with one's influence at home, in the community, or country, but one must open the way, the King's way, as above, that leads even to the remotest corner of the earth, in order to illuminate that corner with the light of Torah and mitzvos (commandments) and to uplift all that is in that corner.
May G-d grant that each and every one of us will carry out the mission included in, "And Yaakov went on his way," and carry it out with joy, for "joy breaks through barriers," and thus help to light up the darkness of the Exile, for the ultimate fulfillment of the promise: "All the earth will be filled with G-d's glory."
Though Hakhel was observed only on one day of Sukkot, the concept applies throughout the year, and the entire year is known as the Hakhel year. Likewise with the Jubilee that was celebrated every 50 years, when slaves returned to the freedom of their homes, and fields were restored to their original owners. Since the purpose of Hakhel is not the assembly in itself, but rather the heightened awe of G-d that results from it thereafter, the whole of that year is permeated with the spirit of Hakhel.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbos is the ninth of Kislev, the birthday and yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber (known as the Mittler Rebbe), the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
In 1816, Reb Dov Ber established a settlement of Chabad chasidim in Israel in the city of Hebron. He encouraged the chasidim already living in other parts of Israel to resettle in Hebron. In addition, his own daughter and son-in-law moved with their family from Russia to Hebron.
But the history of Chabad-Lubavitch support of people, institutions and settlements in the Holy Land predates even 1816. For the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, vigorously encouraged his followers to support the Jews in the Holy Land.
Each and every Rebbe of Chabad, up to and including the present Rebbe, has unequivocally supported the Holy Land and spoken out boldly concerning anything that might have the slightest impact on the security of the Jews there.
Our brethren in Israel know first-hand about the Rebbe's concern for them and their lives. During the Gulf War the Rebbe's emphatic message that "Israel is the safest place in the world for G-d is constantly watching it" was continuously played on the radio. The hundreds of Chabad Centers that dot the Israeli landscape were deluged with callers during the Gulf War asking, "What is the Rebbe saying now?"
Without a doubt, and everyone can be sure of this, the Rebbe's policy has not changed one iota from that of his predecessors. Based on clear guidance from the Torah and Jewish law, the Rebbe reiterates: No action can be taken that might negatively affect the safety of the Jews of the Holy Land.
In the merit of Rabbi Dov Ber, who established the first Chabad settlement in the Holy Land, may we be privileged to go together with Moshiach to the Holy Land, NOW.
He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head (Gen. 28:11)
Why didn't Jacob choose something softer to use as a pillow? Said he: "A stone of the Land of Israel is more precious than all the pillows and cushions I will ever use in the Diaspora."
Behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven (Gen. 28:12)
If a person thinks that he has already perfected himself and "reached heaven," it is a sure sign that in fact, he has a long way to go. For it is only when an individual considers himself lowly and "on the earth" that he is able to ascend to greater spiritual heights.
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
Behold, the L-rd was standing over him ("Vehinei Hashem nitzav alav") (Gen. 28:13)
Rearranging the first letters of the above Hebrew verse results in the word "anav," meaning one who is humble. For it is precisely through humility, self-abnegation and acceptance of the yoke of Heaven that a person attains a sense of G-d's closeness.
Your seed shall be as the dust of the earth (Gen. 28:14)
The Jewish people is likened here to the dust of the earth, although sometimes the Torah compares the Jews to sand, and sometimes to the stars above. We learn a lesson from each of these different expressions. Stars are extremely far apart from one another in the heavens and never come into contact with each other. Grains of sand, on the other hand, are in close proximity to the other grains, but do not stick and adhere to each other. Dust, however, attaches to other particles and forms a cohesive mass. The Jewish people will receive G-d's blessings when they are as unified and undivided as dust.
By Simcha Abramowitz
Yeruchem was a dedicated Chasid of Reb Dov Ber Shneuri, the second Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, also known as the Mittler Rebbe. This Chasid enjoyed an abundance of wealth. Each season, the Chasid's muddy brown soil reaped hundreds of kilos of fresh produce. The workers of the wealthy farmer were paid well and fed well. Huge heaping sacks of rust-colored, brown potatoes stocked the shelves of the chasid's cellar.
The produce was used to feed the poor of the town of Lubavitch. Over time, the skinny peasant workers grew into healthy strong laborers. Sixty percent of all profits on Yeruchem's farm went to charity. The farmer had enough out of his 40% to live quite comfortably. He'd stroll through the fields reciting Psalms each day. Each month, Yeruchem held a big Chasidic gathering, which the Mittler Rebbe would often attend. The songs and melodies made a profound effect on all present.
One winter, Yeruchem took ill. He felt it was time for him to pass on. Yeruchem transferred all his wealth to his only son, Moshe. A large group of peasants assembled at Yeruchem's funeral.
Moshe, the next link in the chain, accepted the inheritance. His father's farm, his father' private cellar, and all of his father's businesses, transferred to Moshe's responsibility. Moshe, the incumbent benefactor of his father's wealth, went to the Mittler Rebbe for a blessing.
Upon arrival at the village, Moshe went directly to the Rebbe. The Rebbe said: "I wish you, Reb Moshe, much success in your financial endeavors. Money is given to us by G-d, not because of our efforts to obtain it. G-d has a special mission in mind for each of us. Your mission in having this money is to support people or institutions in need of money. Remember, you can lose this money as easily as you got it..."
Reb Moshe listened intently to the Rebbe. This was a hard mission, due to his miserly nature. But initially Reb Moshe gave charity generously. Pretty soon, though, Reb Moshe started to cut back on his charitable contributions. He was afraid of overspending. In a short while, he totally gave in to his miserly inclination, giving very little charity. He invested most of his money in businesses which he operated. He spent a little on himself. The rest of his money was stored in is cellar in a huge chest. The soft wads of paper bills sat snugly inside of their wrappers. The heaving wooden chest stood formidably in back of the rickety wooden staircase. No one would every take it away...
The Rebbe sensed what was happening to Reb Moshe and sent a messenger to his chasid.
The messenger arrived and told Reb Moshe that his fortunes would dwindle, unless he would take the Rebbe's advice. Reb Moshe's face instantly flushed with embarrassment. The men talked. By the time the messenger left, Reb Moshe was convinced. Reb Moshe checked his storage cellar that morning. He fished out three sacks of potatoes, and several stacks of bills. He ordered his son to send it to a needy family. Days went by. Weeks went by. Reb Moshe felt regret over the potatoes and money he had given away. He slowed down his tzedaka donations.
Again the Rebbe sent a messenger to warn Reb Moshe and again Reb Moshe started giving charity once more, but this time halfheartedly. Soon, he slowed down his charitable donations and even cut down his farmhands' salaries.
Weeks passed. Reb Moshe cut his workers' salaries once more and totally stopped giving charity.
Over the next few weeks, Moshe suffered major financial setbacks. One by one, his businesses went bankrupt. Then Reb Moshe's plantation was swamped by torrents of heavy rains. By the end of the three-day deluge, Reb Moshe's plantations lay in desolation. Reb Moshe had only one hope left: his money chest. The worried Chasid lowered his shaking body down the cellar's stairwell. Moshe bent down slowly to inspect he chest. His fingers trembled. He held his breath. Then he looked.
The money was so soaked that it crumbled into paper flakes. Such an extreme and unexpected calamity can only be from heaven, he realized. The sobbing Chasid had lost all his crops, all his money, all his businesses, and he still owed money to his creditors. This time, Reb Moshe traveled to the Mittler Rebbe. He cried bitter tears of regret, admitting his wrongdoing, and begging for help.
The Rebbe gave Reb Moshe a blessing to rebuild all his businesses and to replant his crops. But in order for G-d to grant the blessing Reb Moshe would have to fulfill his pledge to share his profits by giving charity generously.
Through a contrite heart, Reb Moshe cured himself of his obsession with money. With the Rebbe's blessings he became wealthy again and now gave charity abundantly.
According to our Sages, Jacob's dream, that hinted to the fall of the nations and the end of exile, was just like another famous dream. This was the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, described in the book of Daniel. In his dream, there was a large metal statue, which represented the nations which would rule over the the Chidlren of Israel. He then saw a large stone smash the statue to dust. The stone then became a large mountain that covered the entire world. The stone represents Moshiach, as Daniel said, "G-d will make a kingdom stand which will never be destroyed and that will last forever."
(Midrash Rabah 68:14. Daniel 2:44)