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by Rabbi David Y.B. Kaufmann
All beginnings are difficult. Starting a job, starting school, even starting the day. Starting a marriage, starting a family, starting dinner, starting a book - even starting this essay! We find beginnings difficult because a new beginning requires a change. What went before wasn't good enough. Whether we're changing from one thing to another - from one job to another, for example - or from a "nothing" state to a "something" state - from not being married to being married - we have to change. And change requires effort; we have to overcome our inertia. In order to change we have to begin. And beginning requires an act of will. We resist beginning until we want to begin. (How many times have we resisted getting out of bed in the morning to start the day until we simply decided to get up - for no apparent reason?)
This explains the difficulty of beginning: we not only have to begin, we have to begin to begin. That is, before we can start something, we have to envision it as complete, whole, finished. From where we are we have to see where we will be. We cannot imagine what we want superficially, not if we want it to be real. We have to see the details. We must anticipate not only how the thing will work but also how it will get made and how we will feel about it. We have to have a goal, a business plan.
So not only must we actually start the project - get the materials, follow the instructions, do all the little things to open the store or assemble the bookcase - we must build it virtually, so to speak, construct it in our minds. Even before we begin, we must have begun. Even as we build, we must imaginatively have already built.
In a sense, creation requires double vision. We must foresee the final result, the completed product. We must envision the end of the process, indeed, what will be after we finish that which we've begun. But the level of insight never becomes real; we constantly anticipate but never arrive. In fact, as long we see the end, as long as we live - mentally - after the fact we not only never get there, we don't ever start. We 'begin to begin' - we have constantly in mind the final moment after; but we never actually start.
Thus we have to see differently. We have to see beyond the will-be, or rather, we have to look closer than the yet-to-be. We have to perceive the process. We have to live in the middle, to experience the unfolding of the initial point.
The first type of beginning conceals; it's the goal, the thought in mind, the future already real but never reached. The second type of beginning reveals; it's the start, the origin, the potential for progress and the development of details.
But we don't have two eyes to see double. That strains the muscles and drains the mind. We have two eyes so that we can see holistically, integrate our vision (of the future) and perception (of the here and now). When the two become one - when the inner reality becomes outwardly manifest - then we live in the time of Shabbat, the time of perfect vision.
That's the goal of Creation, of course, to see G-dliness. And in the era of Moshiach the whole world will experience it, will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd.
Rabbi Kaufmann is the author Two Minutes for Torah, a collection of short 50 essays on Torah topics. He is also the author of three novels, available on his website www.ScotchandHerring.com.
In this week's Torah portion, the first portion in the first book of the Chumash, Bereishit, we read of the creation of the world in the six days by G-d. On the sixth day, before G-d ceased from creating, He fashioned man (Adam) from the earth and his partner Chava (Eve) from Adam.
Adam and Chava were commanded by G-d to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge (until the onset of Shabbat, at which time it would have been permissible to eat from the fruit of the tree). We learn of the cunning deceit of the snake. Playing on Chava's nature, to get both Adam and Chava to go against G-d's will.
It seems that this is the beginning of all of humanity's troubles. It is also replayed over and over again in every generation. The cunning, deceive the world to go against truth and decency, to go against G-d.
Why is this the first story of humanity? What lesson can we take from this for ourselves and for our time?
This story is our personal daily struggle with the snake, the evil inclination. Every day, he cunningly plays on our weaknesses, only to create distance between us and Hashem.
This story is first because this is our essential struggle.
Every time we overcome his cunning, we are drawn closer to G-d and G-d is filled with pride. His truth wins the moment, false deception trumped.
The nature of man is to follow his pleasures and his perceived best interest, regardless of what is right and true. The same is true for the nations of the world. In their hatred of the Jewish people, they choose to deceive themselves, allowing/supporting the snakes that that seek to annihilate us.
Now we are being tested, as even those that "claimed" to be our friends, end up being snakes. Our brothers and sisters in Israel are being murdered, and the world is supporting the murderers. Now that we have played by the worlds dishonest rules and failed, perhaps it is time to do what Hashem wants and do what is right in His eyes.
We are good, right, smart, kind and decent, we have nothing to prove. All that is necessary is courage. Courage to do what is right.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
by Lieba Rudolph
"Wait, I think that's the doctor!" Zev exclaimed as we hurried out of the car to try to stop him. I had never seen the doctor before but I had heard all about him. He came to our shul (synagogue) on Shabbat a few weeks earlier for a Bar Mitzva. Zev told me how much he enjoyed their conversation, largely because the doctor was so interested in our Jewish journey. That type of conversation doesn't happen very often.
Then again, the doctor came to shul for Mendy Feigelstock's son's Bar Mitzva, and people like Mendy don't happen very often either.
I only remember having one real conversation with Mendy, many years ago when he came to fix our computer - actually, I don't remember the conversation at all. I just remember listening to him, looking at him, thinking, he's doing something right. Mendy came from a prominent family in Montreal and was known to be a technological genius, but the Pittsburgh community loved him because he was so genuinely unassuming and kind-hearted. His doctor undoubtedly experienced Mendy's unusual demeanor, too, one that didn't change after he was diagnosed with a devastating illness. It's been over eight years since Mendy passed away, and thanks to the Feigelstock family, the doctor is a family friend - and interested in Torah Judaism.
But our meeting on the street was unplanned; we all had other places to go. Most important though, was for Zev and me to offer the doctor condolences; his mother had just passed away. Somehow though he wasn't rushing to leave after that. He picked up the conversation where he and Zev left off: He still couldn't believe that we, and so many other people in shul, weren't born as observant Jews.
"You should carry an old picture of yourself," I teased Zev as I confirmed that he was once a golfer with a 5 handicap. (Not that I know what that means - I can't get past why you would want to play a game that requires you to have a handicap.) We introduced him to the generally accepted term for people like us: baalei teshuva. I told them that it literally translates as, "masters of return." (Halevai, I quickly added with a smile. That's the Jewish way of saying, "we should live so long.") I didn't want to overwhelm him, but I did want to reassure him that if he came to shul, he would be in the company of many beginners who had just begun a little earlier.
Encounters like these thrill me. Because finally, after a very long time, I appreciate that there are many real benefits to being a baalat teshuva. Here are three of them:
I learned a lot in my secular education. Even if I did forget most of what I learned in school, there's still a lot that comes to mind regularly: about Edmund G. Ross or fruit flies or (my favorite) the Milgrom experiment. And while I'm not sure how my 500-word English essays helped my writing, I can surely credit my SAT preps for introducing me to words like cistern and harbinger. I may always struggle with Hebrew because I learned it as an adult, but I can sing along in French to much of La Marseillaise--that comes in handy once in a while, too. And because I was educated in America, I learned "1492" as the year Columbus sailed to America. When I learned that 1492 was also the year the Jews were expelled from Spain, I had no trouble remembering the date. Fortunately, today's Jewish day schools offer a range of educational options; many include quality secular curricula as well (so children can learn the preferred plural form of words like "curriculum").
I appreciate my observance because I worked so hard for it. Nothing about Jewish observance was "second nature" to me. I had to learn everything from scratch - and I was already married with two children. I don't know where the perseverance came from, I'm just grateful that my husband and I both had it. I couldn't wait for the day though, when I might be mistaken for an "FFB," someone who was "frum from birth." (Frum is how frum people refer to someone who's "Orthodox.") I wondered if I would ever be comfortable in my Jewish skin. Now I realize that discomfort is the hallmark of a baal teshuva and I celebrate that quality. It's great for getting me to improve myself.
I can relate to the mindset of people who aren't observant. I understand what it's like to grow up with nebulous notions about G-d and Judaism. Which is why I also understand how people might resist hearing about Moshiach. But, as a baalat teshuva, especially through Chabad, I also understand that Moshiach is an essential Jewish concept, that he's ready to come and transform the world, and that learning Torah and doing mitzvot can bring him sooner. (As a woman, I appreciate how his arrival is likened to giving birth - to an almost 6,000 year old baby, no less - with all the pain and focus that are necessary to complete the job.) I can even elucidate some of the harbingers of Moshiach's arrival (think global anxiety and circus politics) to anyone who's interested in doing more to bring him. And when I say anyone, I mean any one. Because humankind's good deeds are cumulative, and one more good deed is all it's going to take. I'm not sure what that one good deed will be and when it will transform the world, but we'll all know Moshiach when he comes. One thing is for sure - the word baal teshuva will take on a whole new meaning.
From Mrs. Rudolph's blog ponderingjew.org
The Inside Story
The Inside Story, Volume I: Genesis was released just in time for the beginning of the Torah cycle. Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, The Inside Story shows how each and every event in the first book of Torah, Bereishit, is never just a simple story, but rather an eternal lesson as relevant today as it was 3,300 years ago. The Inside Story is a collection of 80 essays centered around the inner meaning of the Torah's best known stories. Published by the Meaningful Life Center.
Super Special Shneur
Have you wondered how parents of special needs children cope? What can you say and what can you do to help? In Super Special Shneur, Sara Rivkah Lipsh opens up her heart and draws you in as she traversed difficulties, dilemmas and decision-making in the early years of her special child's life. A new release BSD Publishers.
10th of Cheshvan, 5734 
After not hearing from you for a long time, I was pleased to receive your letter of October 28th with enclosures. Many thanks for the good news about the various activities.
I trust that the accomplishments in the past will stimulate you and all the members of the Neshei Chabad to even greater accomplishments in the future, in accordance with the saying of our Sages, "He who has 100, desires 200; and having attained 200 desires 400." If in material things ambition increases with every success, and at a growing pace, how much more should it be in the case of Torah and Mitzvos. And if this is so in the case of an individual, how much more so should it be in the case of group activity and a concerted effort by many who share the same dedication and inspiration.
Especially as we are now coming from the month of Tishrei, which ushers in the New Year and sets the tone for the entire year.
This is the reason why the month of Tishrei contains "samples" of the whole range of religious experience: Rosh Hashanah-acceptance of G-d's Kingship, Yom Kippur-repentance (Teshuvah), Succos-rejoicing with Mitzvos, culminating with Simchas Torah-rejoicing with the Torah, and also the Torah rejoicing with Jews living by the Torah and Mitzvos.
I trust therefore that these experiences will be with you and every one of the participants in the activities of Neshei Chabad, throughout the year, and will be permeated with the culminating note of Tishrei, namely, true joy in Divine service and in every aspect of the daily life, materially and spiritually.
15th of Cheshvan, 5752 
Mr. Ardadiusz Rybicki
President of the Council for Polish-Jewish Relations
Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter in which you express deep sorrow about the terrible anti-Semitic incident that took place last month in front of the synagogue in Warsaw; that the perpetrators were captured and will be prosecuted, and that the behavior was condemned by President Walesa, etc. You also express the hope that in the future intolerance and prejudice will disappear from the Polish people and that you are working towards this end.
We appreciate the sentiments expressed in your letter, and we pray that your hope and efforts will materialize very soon indeed.
Apropos of the above I would like to add that last month, in the beginning of Tishrei, we ushered in the current Jewish Year, 5752, with the celebration of Rosh Hashana, the anniversary of the creation of the first man, Adam. Our Sages of the Talmud explain why the creation of man differed from the creation of other living species and why, among other things, man was created as a single individual, unlike other living creatures created in pairs. One of the reasons-our Sages declare-is that it was G-d's design that the human race, all humans everywhere and at all times, should know that each and all descend from the one and the same single progenitor, a fully developed human being created in the image of G-d, so that no human being could claim superior ancestral origin; hence would also find it easier to cultivate a real feeling of kinship in all inter human relationships.
Indeed, although Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish festival, our prayers for a Happy New Year include also all the nations and dwellers on earth. And true happiness includes everyone's peace and prosperity both materially and spiritually.
With prayerful wishes,
What are "sheva brachot?"
"Sheva brachot" literally means ""seven blessings." There are seven blessings that are recited over wine during and after a wedding ceremony. When a minyan is present the sheva brachat are also recited at meals during the week following the wedding. It has become customary to prepare a marriage feast for each of the seven days after the wedding and they are commonly referred to as "Sheva Brachot."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The holiday season has come to an end. We are slowly returning to a more regular schedule.
There is a beautiful parable about this return to day-to-day life. In olden times, people went to Leibtzik, Germany, once each year for the annual fair, the precursor to today's "global village" tradeshow. Merchants gathered from all over the area. Once there, each merchant bought goods which he sold back in his own town.
During the month in Leibtzik the merchants bought their wares. When they came back home, they started unpacking. Little by little they unloaded and sold the merchandise they had purchased in Leibtzik.
Merchants and Leibtzik are similar to a Jew during the holiday month of Tishrei. During the holidays, a Jew acquires inspiration, enthusiasm, goodwill, proper resolutions, a stronger connection to G-d and to his fellow Jews.
Then, as the month of Cheshvan begins and throughout the rest of the year, Jew unpacks what he acquired over the holidays. He takes everything that he has learned, experienced and resolved, and he applies it to his day-to-day life.
May we all "unpack our bags" in the appropriate spirit, channeling all of our newfound inspiration into increased involvement in Judaism and our regular schedule of activities.
In the beginning G-d created the Heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)
Chasidic teachings explain: "In the beginning" - before everything else, a Jew must know that "G-d created the Heavens and the Earth." The basis for a Jew's entire existence is the knowledge that there is a Creator and Ruler over the world Who created nothing into something.
The first word of the Torah is "B'reishit." The first letter, bet, has the numerical value of two. Reishit means beginning or first. For two firsts the world was created. For the Torah, which is called Reishit Darko - the beginning of His way, and for the Jewish people, who are called Reishit T'vuato - the first of His crops.
It was evening and it was morning, the second day (Gen. 1:8)
Why, about the second day of creation, does it not say, "And it was good," as it says with all of the other days? Rabbi Chanina said: "On that day divisiveness was created, as it says, 'And there was a separation between the waters [above] and the waters [below].'" Rabbi Tuviyomi said, "If divisiveness which is for the purpose of correcting the world is not good, divisiveness which stirs things up is certainly not good."
Be Fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:28)
The first commandment in the Torah is "Be fruitful and multiply." Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism declared: "The first basic principle in the Torah, the first fundamental in our lives, is that each and every Jew is obligated to 'create' another." Every member of our people must invest great effort to "produce another Jew, specifically, to foster Torah education.
It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help to match him (Gen. 2:18)
As we learn from G-d's actions in the creation of the world, every man is obligated to do three things, and in this particular order: build a home, plant a vineyard, and marry a woman. For indeed, the Holy One, Blessed be He, first built a house (i.e., created the world), filled it with various provisions and means of livelihood, and only afterward created Adam and his wife.
Many years ago there was a man who occupied a high ministerial position in the Spanish government. When the official was accused of being a secret Jew, he was arrested by priests and subjected to a trial by Church authorities. He was found guilty - like everyone else accused of the same crime - and sentenced to death by burning. However, the minister was well connected and was a personal friend of the Spanish king. Even though such matters fell under the jurisdiction of the priests and had nothing to do with royal affairs, the king requested that the sentence be postponed for a year, to allow the minister to transfer his official responsibilities to another person and to assure a smooth transition. The Church authorities agreed and the auto-da-fe was postponed.
After the year was up the king once again asked for a postponement, this time for a month. The next month he asked for another week, and the following week, for another day. But the day of execution finally arrived, and the entire city was invited to witness the event in the center of the city's square, which had been specially prepared for the public spectacle.
Before the sentence could be carried out, however, a massive earthquake shook the very spot where the minister was about to meet his death. Pandemonium broke out as the crowds tried to run away, and many were trampled and died. In the midst of all the tumult the minister was able to escape. With the clandestine help of the king he succeeded in fleeing the country.
Now, this particular minister was an intellectual and a philosopher. As such, he felt compelled to understand the nature of the event that had just transpired. Was the sudden earthquake just a coincidence that saved his life at the very minute he was about to be executed, or had G-d performed a special miracle on his behalf? The minister decided to study the matter, and, based on his findings, act accordingly: If he concluded that the earthquake was merely coincidental he would continue to hide his Jewish identity, but if he came to believe that it was a miracle he would live openly as a Jew, for he was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Spanish authorities.
In his quest to understand the matter he sought the opinion of the greatest minds in Germany. He made sure, however, to never reveal that he was the individual involved in the case, saying instead that he had heard of such an occurrence and that he found it intriguing. Each wise man had a different opinion on the subject, but the minister was unable to accept any of their conclusions. He was still undecided what to do when he learned of the existence of a very great tzadik, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. He decided to pay him a visit to ask his help.
Entering the courtyard of the Baal Shem Tov, the minister passed someone standing in the yard, grooming the horses. This was Reb Zev Kitzes, one of the Baal Shem Tov's students. The minister asked him where the Baal Shem Tov lived, and was shown the right house. As soon as he entered the door, and before he had even announced his presence, he was greeted with the following words: "Peace upon you, O Spanish Minister!" The man froze in his tracks, for no one, during all his travels, had yet identified him. He realized that he was in the presence of a holy man. As he stood rooted to the spot, unable to speak, the Baal Shem Tov continued: "As far as your question is concerned, my student, the person you passed standing near the horses on your way in will provide the answer."
The minister went outside and explained his predicament to Reb Kitzes. "Let us assume," replied the disciple, "that ever since the Six Days of Creation it was preordained that on that very spot, at that very moment, an earthquake would take place. The very fact that your death sentence was scheduled to be carried out at that very moment, not one second before or after, is an indisputable miracle."
This explanation was immediately acceptable to the minister, whose mind was finally put at ease. Thenceforth he lived openly as a Jew and became a Chasid of the Baal Shem Tov.
In the beginning, "The earth was without form and void...and the spirit of G-d hovered over the surface of the waters." (Gen. 1:2) The Midrash explains that the "spirit" was Moshiach. This teaches us that our longing for Moshiach must include a yearning for both stages of Redemption. During the first stage, the "yoke of the nations" will be removed from Israel's neck, though the world will continue according to natural law. The second stage will be marked by revealed G-dliness, such as the resurrection of the dead and other miracles. G-d's goal in creating the world, even before creating humankind, is the Messianic Era. Thus, our yearning must be for the complete realization of Divine plan.
(Sichat Parshat Acharei 5746)