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November 15 is "America Recycles Day." Advertising (on recycled paper, of course) encourages people to get involved and make pledges to learn, act and share.
What is our responsibility toward recycling as Jews living in today's world?
The Midrash (Ecclesiastics Rabba) states: In the hour when G-d created the first person, He took him and let him pass before all the trees of the garden of Eden, and said to him: See My works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I have created for you have I created. Think upon this and do not corrupt and desolate My world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.
From this teaching it is clear that G-d created the world for people to inhabit and use, but with the understanding that we act responsibly toward all of creation.
Is there, perhaps, more that we can learn from recycling? As everything we see and hear is a lesson for us in our G-dly service, can we learn from the suggestions made in previous years of America Recycles Day?
Commit to "buy recycled" at home and at work: Being a Jew requires a commitment. And that commitment is for home and for work, the two places where we spend most of the 24 hours of our days. Living Jewishly shouldn't be relegated to the time spent in the synagogue or certain holidays.
Think before you buy. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle: Think before you buy into the latest pop-psychology or new-age spirituality. Ask yourself, "Will this reduce my connection to G-d? Should I reuse, i.e., re- experience and reapply, Jewish traditions before I 'buy' new ones. Can I recycle, rescue, save customs that have been in our family for generations?"
Start a paper recycling program in your office, school, or community: Jewish living is best experienced with others. Start a class in your office, school or community.
Ask your local recycling coordinator about adding additional materials to your community's recycling program: Discuss with your family adding additional mitzvot to your "local" Jewish program.
Tell your local retailers you want them to stock more products made from recycled materials: If you can do it for recycling, you can do it for kosher products in supermarkets, Jewish books in national book store chains, modest clothing in boutiques.
Encourage the use of recycled-content products in your business or school: Reach out to other Jews and encourage them to get more involved in things Jewish. We are encouraged to share every bit of knowledge we have; even if all you know is the letter 'alef,' you should teach it to someone who doesn't even know alef.
Visit a nearby recycling facility or landfill: Visit Jewish sites and scenes. Jewish museums are great, but visit places where Judaism is alive. Tour unique Jewish communities. Go to a matza bakery. Spend a Shabbat in a neighborhood where everyone's doing it. See what the inside of a mikva looks like. Attend a giant menora lighting ceremony this Chanuka.
This year in particular, make pledges to learn, act and share.
This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, begins with G-d's command to Abram, "Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you." In the land that Abram will be shown, G-d will make him into a great nation. So Abram, his wife Sarai, and their nephew Lot, traveled to the land of Canaan where Abram builds an altar and continues to spread the message of a one G-d.
All of this takes place when Abram is 75 years old. Why doesn't the Torah tell us about his early life, how he recognized his creator, how he came to understand that G-d is the one true G-d and the sacrifices he made, standing up for his belief in G-d? Why doesn't the Torah tell us about the kind of person he was, as it does concerning Noah, "Noah was a righteous man..."? What lesson is the Torah trying to impress on us by starting the story of Abram with a command?
Abram was the first Jew. His life is a lesson on what being a Jew is all about. The Torah only shares stories of Abram that provide a lesson for us, on how to be a Jew.
By opening with G-d's first command to Abram, G-d is sending us a message. That the connection between G-d and a Jew is not based on ones understanding of G-d, so that the greater the understanding the greater the connection. Rather our connection is because he chose us regardless of our philosophical or theological understanding. Our connection is greater than any understanding, it is an intrinsic connection with G-d, because he chose us, like he chose Abram.
By not describing Abram's character, G-d emphasizes this point. That a Jew is always connected, regardless of his or her spiritual state.
Also, opening with a command, tells us that our purpose is, first and foremost, to do G-d's commandments. The way we experience this connection is by doing mitzvot (commandments).
We shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that we need to reach some spiritual level to start doing mitzvot. The opposite is true, by doing mitzvot we experience the infinite connection that is always there.
May this Shabbat be truly beautiful and unifying.
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.
Dr. Martin Graf has been practicing internal medicine since 1964. He began attending college at Alfred University after graduating high school at 16. From there, he attended Wake Forest Medical School in North Carolina, where he finished his medical boards with the highest mark.
Though he hadn't needed to study to pass his boards, when Dr. Graf started seeing patients, as an intern and then a resident, "I wanted to know everything. I wanted to help solve all the problems that were being brought to me. I read and read and read. "
Dr. Graf attended the University of Chicago for his medical residency. The only resident not from an Ivy League school, he was named Chief Resident in his last year. He also did a fellowship in allergy and immunology at NYU, as well as two years in the military at Bethesda Naval Hospital. "My real strength is patient care, though. And that is what I have been doing for the past 47 years."
Dr. Graf met his wife, Judith, during his fellowship. "I feel G-d guided me to meet her. My parents found a studio apartment for me near NYU. A few weeks before I was to move in, the sitting tenants decided to stay. There was another apartment available in the same building. Judith was my next door neighbor but our paths never crossed. And then, one day, both of our apartments got flooded, and we went into the hallway, which is where we met.
"I was raised in a home where my mother was agnostic and my father didn't attend synagogue. I did not go to a synagogue after my Bar Mitzva until we had a son and wanted him to go to Hebrew school.
""While at the synagogue, there was an assistant rabbi who gave me a copy of a debate between Dennis Praeger and Howard Kushner on why bad things happen to good people. I was so impressed with Mr. Praeger's arguments that I began listening to his tapes. He then did the monumental task of teaching Torah for the next 18 years. I anxiously awaited my four tapes each month
"Six years ago I got in touch with Rabbi Yehudah Shurpin from Chabad.org's 'Ask the Rabbi.' Rabbi Shurpin recommended I attend a JLI class (myjli.com) at my local Chabad. When I attended my first class at Chabad of Potomac, seeing a rabbi with a black hat and beard was as strange for me as seeing someone from an African tribe. Rabbi Mendel Bluming has been an excellent teacher, spiritual leader, and good friend. Since then, I have continued my studies with Rabbi Bluming and as well with Isser Charter, my mentor at JNET (jnet.org)."
Dr. Graf contacted us to share with our readers stories of how he sees G-d's guidance in his medical practice. A few of those stories follow:
Soon after I went into practice, I had a new patient come into my office. She was 75 years old and I greeted her by saying "Welcome Nan Fox."
She immediately told me "Sonny boy, my name is Mrs. Charles Fox and if you want to see me again you will refer to me as such." I noted that in her chart.
After I finished the history in my consultation room and physical exam in the examining room I told her my nurse would come in to help me with an additional exam. She said, "Sonny boy, no one examines me there."
I noted in the chart that she refuses the exam and not to ask her ever again. She came in yearly for her complete physical and on the 10th year after completing her exam, for some inexplicable reason I said, "Mrs. Fox. How about me doing the exam this year?" To my astonishment she agreed. I found an early cancer, she was operated on and cured.
A few years later I received a phone call at midnight from the husband of a patient of mine who was in Hawaii. She had always enjoyed excellent health but that day had suddenly lapsed into a coma. All her lab tests were normal and they were preparing to do an exploratory operation on her brain to try to find out what had happened to her.
We didn't yet have Cat Scans or MRI's. I asked him if she had had a urinary tract infection and he said "yes." Was she taking Cipro? "Yes" I told him to stop the Cipro and she would wake up. She stopped it and returned to normal health. To the best of my knowledge, coma due to Cipro is either exceedingly rare or has never been reported. My diagnosis was not humanly possible. It was then that I realized G-d was using me to help others.
A few years later, my brother had an appointment with me. On performing a routine medical exam, I felt something that seemed abnormal to me. Although his blood test returned normal, I felt compelled to send him to a specialist. The specialist called me to tell me that he thought everything was normal. I told him about my concerns. He said if I insisted he would do a biopsy. The biopsy came back as cancer. I sent him to Dr. Patrick Walsh, the famous urologist at Johns Hopkins who invented the nerve sparing operation for cancer of the prostate. Dr Walsh told my brother that this was the smallest cancer of the prostate he had ever treated! I was so grateful to G-d as my brother and I are very close.
I can cite dozens more instances where G-d has used me to help people, but I will end with one where G-d used my stupidity to help another patient. Mr. Pflum had a complete physical exam scheduled. Unfortunately that morning I had two emergency patients come in who both needed to be hospitalized.
When I finally called my first scheduled patient in, I was 1 1/2 hours late and for the first and only time, I brought him directly to the exam room without doing my usual history. I didn't even review his chart. Everything appeared to be normal and my nurse did an EKG because he had mild hypertension. The EKG was wildly abnormal so I looked at his chart to see what his last EKG showed. It was then that I realized I had done a complete history and physical on him just three months ago and his EKG then was completely normal.
If I had reviewed the chart in advance as I always do, I would not have repeated the EKG. I referred him to a cardiologist and he had a 99% blockage of the main coronary artery. He was operated on and cured. I told this story to my son who is an outstanding emergency room doctor and he said, "Dad, you're just a good doctor." I told him that I am neither a good or bad doctor; if you study Torah and allow G-d to come into your life you may be as fortunate as I have been. I frequently get praise and thanks from my patients, but I always tell them not to thank me; I am only the conduit, thank G-d.
A new Torah scroll was recently welcomed into the newly renovated sanctuary at Chabad of Vacaville, California's 8,500-square-foot facility on Main Street in historic downtown Vacaville.
Three new synagogues join the 30 active Chabad Centers in Moscow, Russia. These three new synagogues also welcomed new Torah scrolls. A synagogue opened at the MGIMO University, the largest in Russia, where many Jewish students study. The second is in the Mitischi neighborhood. The third is in the Sokol neighborhood.
The Chabad Center for Jewish Life in historic Fort Wood, Tennessee, underwent major renovations and was rededicated recently. The 10,000 square foot center features a synagogue, a library, a lounge, and other spaces for learning and special events. The center serves the Jewish community of Chattanooga as well as Jewish college and medical students from both University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Erlanger Hospital.
10 Elul 5704
August 29, 1944
My dear Mr. -------:
This is the first opportunity I have of replying to your letter of August 1st, enclosing a memorandum expressing some thoughts. I am sorry to say that owing to the fact that I recently lost my father, the delay in answering you and offering you my comments was unavoidable.
As to the thesis of your dissertation, I was glad to note your interest in such deep matters, and your understanding and outlook.
The subject under discussion is truly profound, and human speech is all too limited to clearly and accurately define the delicate aspects involved. It is therefore no reflection upon your exposition if I say that some aspects of your dissertation remained unclear to me after I carefully perused it.
Without going into detail concerning the subject matter, I will touch upon its general outline, and after condensing your thesis, as I understood it, I will put forth my comments.
Your thesis briefly appears to be that all things start in the state of a "seed" and then tend to develop to the full capacity of growth inherent in the "seed." Reaching its state of optimum growth the organism is the seed of the next stage of development. Thus the original "seed" passes through various stages of development and transformation, in the course of which it combines forces with similar organisms, establishing themselves as distinctive parts of combined organisms. This combined organism is again merely a "seed" for higher development, and so forth. Somewhere in the path of this order of development man comes in, and here a new force is introduced - a psychic force - a part of which is the power of free choice to either continue along the path of growth and development, subject to the laws and principles of growth that dominated the preceding organisms, or to defy them.
So much for your thesis.
Now, here are some aspects which the above thesis leaves unexplained.
continued in next issue
- Since free choice is something possessed by man alone, and not by the lower forms, it follows that the power of free choice is a negative quality, for while all other things, subject to their laws of growth, can only progress, man, because of his power of free choice, can also regress.
Some aspects of your dissertation remained unclear to me after I carefully perused it.
- The thesis does not make it clear what is this "seed" that passes through the various stages of growth and to which the evolution is applied. For instance, a seed of an apple is planted, and it brings forth a tree bearing sour or small apples, but the seed of these apples produces a tree bearing sweet or large apples. Now, we cannot say that the first seed developed into a better seed, since the first seed is non-existent. Nor can we say that a better species of apple trees has been evolved, for species is merely a term which we use for facilitating the understanding of creation around us; we classify and subdivide all phenomena into various kinds, species, categories, orders, etc., according to common features, merely in order to make it easier for us to study and understand them.
Did you then have in mind that "nature" has advanced, because the apple trees hitherto had been bearing sour apples, but through development and perfection "nature" now produces apple trees bearing sweet apples?
What is involved in the commandment of "visiting the sick"?
Visiting the sick, or "Bikur Cholim" in Hebrew, is one of the commandments for which the Talmud has set no limits. The Talmud states that by visiting a sick person one helps him to recover. One should cheer the sick person with pleasant conversation and good advice and helping them in any way possible. For the performance of this mitzva a person is rewarded in this world as well as in the World to Come.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, we read that G-d promised Abraham the lands of ten nations, including not only the lands of the seven Canaanite nations conquered by the Jews after the exodus from Egypt, but also the lands of the Keini, the Kenizi, and the Kadmoni. G-d promised - and thus gave - the Jewish people all these ten lands. However, until the Era of the Redemption, the fulfillment of this promise will not be realized and we have only the lands of seven nations.
Similarly, it is in the Era of the Redemption that the relationship between the Jewish people and the Holy Land will reach a state of completion. At that time, all Jews - including the ten "lost" tribes - will arise in the Resurrection and will live there.
Today we are still involved in the process of preparing to take possession of the Holy Land, to include the lands of the Keini, Kenizi, and the Kadmoni. This is particularly relevant now when, as the Rebbe explained, we are the last generation of exile and the first generation of redemption.
The Land of Israel was given to Abraham's descendants to transform it into a dwelling for G-d. For it is through the conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel that the fusion of the spiritual and the material will come to its ultimate expression.
These ten lands refer to the refinement of our personal powers, the seven emotional powers and the three intellectual powers. In the present time, the Jews were granted only the lands of seven nation, i.e., the seven emotional powers. Although we also make use of our intellect, at present, the intellect serves the emotions. In contrast, in the Era of the Redemption, the three intellectual powers will be expressed in their full potential, being used to achieve a complete bond with G-d. For through Torah study, one connects one's mind to G-d as He is manifest in the Torah. This allows for a complete unity for "G-d and the Torah are one."
This untiy will be reflected in an all-encompassing revelation of G-dliness that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.
And Malkitzedek, King of Shalem, brought out bread and wine, and he was a priest of G d, most high (Gen. 14:18)
Rabbi Mordechai of Lachowitz would say, "Malkitzedek 'brought out' introduced and led a new path in the worship of G d. Even when a person 'eats bread' and 'drinks wine,' he has the ability and potential to be a 'priest to G d, most high' one who serves G d."
At eight days old shall every male child be circumcised (Gen. 17:12)
A Jewish male enters into the covenant of Abraham at the tender age of eight days, before he can possibly understand the significance of the act, because brit mila (circumcision) involves the essence of the soul, which exists on a level far above human understanding and comprehension. The mitzva binds the soul to G-d, Who is also beyond our understanding and comprehension.
And the souls that they made in Charan (Gen. 12:5)
A person who takes pity on a poor man and sustains him is credited with having "created" that person, as we learn from Abraham our forefather: "The souls that they made" refers to the multitude of guests to whom Abraham offered his hospitality and brought into his tent.
And told it to Abram the Hebrew ("Ivri") (Gen. 14:13)
The word "Ivri" comes from the root word meaning, "side," for Abraham stood alone on one side, while all the world opposed him.
Look now toward the heaven and count the stars...so shall your seed be (Gen. 15:5)
Just as the stars in the sky appear from afar to be tiny specks of light, yet, in actuality, each one is an entire world, so, too, are the Jews: In this world Jews may be the object of scorn and derision, yet, in truth, the Jewish people are great and mighty, the foundation of the world's very creation.
(Baal Shem Tov)
When the young chasid heard that the Baal Shem Tov (known as the Besht) was going to spend Shabbat in Posen, he was anxious to accompany him. Alexei, the driver readied the coach and they set out on the journey.
The Baal Shem Tov never traveled in an ordinary manner. While the driver sat napping, the horses were given free rein and ran at enormous speed. When the horses finally stopped, the carriage was standing in a grassy wooded area. The Baal Shem Tov took a flask and sent Alexei out to fill it with water from a spring.
He returned with the water and the Besht gave it to the chasid, cautioning him to make a blessing before drinking. As soon as the chasid grasped the flask, he felt an intense thirst and barely managed to recite the blessing. Afterward, the Besht and Alexei drank as well.
Everyone got back into the carriage. Once more, Alexei fell into a deep sleep. The unreined horses continued at their unnatural speed, coursing through the countryside. "We are going so fast, but we don't seem to be reaching Posen," observed the chasid.
But the Besht was unconcerned, and replied, "We will be in Posen, G-d willing, at the proper time." They travelled throughout the night at the same enormous speed. When they stopped in the morning the Baal Shem Tov prayed at great length. Then they resumed the trip. The hours passed in rapid travel, but the chasid, who had travelled to Posen many times before, saw no familiar sites. Nevertheless, he did not question the Besht further.
Finally, the horses drew to a stop outside a ruined shack and the Besht descended from the carriage. They entered the house and there on the floor lay a sick old man surrounded by his tattered, emaciated family. But when the old man saw the Besht, he rose to his feet and embraced him. The two spoke in hushed tones for some time. After the old man blessed the Baal Shem Tov they returned to the carriage and continued their journey.
Shabbat was descending when at last they reached the city of Posen. They alighted from the carriage on the Street of Students, a place known for violent anti-Jewish riots. Sure enough, as soon as word had spread that Jews had arrived they were surrounded by a vicious mob. The Besht traversed the crowd, unafraid, with the frightened young man at his heels.
They entered the house of a Jewish tailor, the only Jew tolerated by the locals because of his useful trade. The tailor greeted his guests joyfully, but with trepidation. "You have nothing to fear," the Besht assured him. Together with the assistant tailors, they formed a minyan, and began the afternoon service. But they were interrupted by the noise of a mob outside the door. The Besht opened the door and focused his blazing eyes on the hooligans. Terror-struck, they turned and fled.
When the story of this astonishing rabbi reached the ears of a certain university professor, he burned with curiosity. What kind of man could this be? He made his way to the tailor's house to observe the holy Besht. The following day he returned and sat, eyes riveted on the majestic figure of the rabbi. He listened intently to the Torah which was taught, and didn't move until Shabbat was over.
When they had eaten the Saturday night meal escorting Shabbat, the Besht instructed the driver to bring the carriage and they departed, travelling again at a fabulous speed. In no time they arrived back in Brod. The young man was completely baffled. He got up the nerve to question the Besht. "I can't understand the point of this journey. Please allow me to ask you three questions: First, why did we stop in the grassy area? Second, who was the sick old man we visited? And third, why did we spend Shabbat with the tailor in Posen?"
The Besht replied: "I will answer two of your questions. The third you will decipher in due time. In the high grass there lay the bodies of two murdered Jews who had never received a proper burial. By reciting the blessings on the water, and praying the next morning we were able to elevate their souls. The sick old man was the greatest tzadik of our generation. He was destined to be Moshiach, but since our generation was not prepared for him, he was to pass away that very night. As for the reason for going to Posen, you will find out later."
Many years passed and one Shabbat the chasid happened to be in Posen. He had occasion to visit the home of the rabbi and spent a wonderful Shabbat there, absorbing the erudite Torah commentary of his host. Suddenly the young man was struck by something his host had said. "I heard these very same words from the Baal Shem Tov in the house of a tailor right here in Posen!"
"Are you the young man who accompanied the Besht?" asked the rabbi.
"Don't you recognize me? I am the university professor who was present. The words of the Besht caused me to attach myself to Judaism."
Now the chasid finally understood the purpose of the mysterious trip to Posen.
G-d told Abraham to journey to the Holy Land. Wherever Abraham went, he saw that G-d's name was absent from mankind, and particularly in the Land of Canaan. Therefore, "G-d appeared to Abram, and He said, 'To your seed I will give this land.' and there he built an altar to G-d" (12:7) This was the promise of the final Redemption when the Land will be fully inhabited by the Jewish people and when G-d's glory will fill the earth. Abraham responded with an offering of gratitude for the promise of the complete redemption.