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If you're not certain of how to get to a certain location, do you use an "old-fashioned" paper map (ala AAA)? Or perhaps you first look up the directions on-line using Google Maps or Mapquest. What about once you're in the car? Do you prefer Waze over Google Maps?
When using most GPS systems, there will often be a suggested alternate routes based on real-time traffic. Do you take the alternate route or to you stick with the plan?
How about when you're going somewhere - near or far - that you've been to a million times at least. Surely you've found short-cuts; a right turn here, then a sharp left down a street that doesn't have a traffic light, under the overpass, just past the fork in the road and there you are.
However, there seem to be times when the obsession with finding the alternate route becomes so overpowering that we end up even further from our destination.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, encouraged people to learn from everything they see or hear. It's possible, then, to find meaning in short cuts and the long, well-traveled path.
It seems that, sometimes we Jews have a problem with which "path" to follow. We get involved in "alternate" routes to fulfillment, spirituality, relationships, etc. The infrequently traveled regular route is a path of involvement in Judaism, Torah learning, mitzva observance. When we return to our true roots (routes?) it might seem a little alien at first. But in the end, we see how it is, in fact, the correct and primary path.
While on the subject of paths, let's make a U-turn and discuss the saying of Rabbi Yehuda in the Misnha (Pirkei Avot 2:1): Which is the straight path that a man should choose for himself? That which brings distinction to himself and brings him distinction from man.
It seems strange that we should be told that the "straight path" is the one bringing us distinction. That may be good in politics, but for the rest of us? In fact it could be said that Rabbi Yehudah is providing us with his personal formula for balancing one's own need for spiritual growth with a concern with our fellow man. Either extreme - to be too involved in our own needs or to be so caught up in our neighbor's condition that we forget our own improvement - are equally far from the straight path, the perfect mix.
Short-cuts on trips are fine. But for the more important journey of life, make sure to be following the correct path.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, begins with the words, "And G-d revealed Himself to Abraham..." This revelation took place three days after Abraham cirucumcised himself at the age of 99 as commanded by G-d. That same day, three guests appear at Abraham's tent. They are angels, disguised as men. One of the guests announces that, in exactly one year, the barren Sara will give birth to a son.
Later, G-d "remembers" His promise to Sara. "And G-d remembered Sara as He had said, and G-d did for Sara as He had spoken. And Sara conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the appointed time of which G-d had spoken."
(The day on which G-d remembered Sara was 1 Tishrei - Rosh Hashana, and we read this Biblical narrative as the Torah reading on that day.)
The above verses can give each one of so much strength. They can fill us with joy, belief and trust.
For starters, the Jewish people according to the laws of nature are not supposed to be here, our entire existence is a miracle. These verses express how Abraham and Sara are blessed with a baby, though Sara was infertile. On top of that, he was 100, she was 90, far past the age of childbirth. G-d returned Sara's youth to her and opened her womb to conceive; to Abraham he gave the ability at this advanced age to sire children. The birth of Isaac, our forefather, is only by miracle.
Imagine Sara's joy when she recognized that she was pregnant after all this time, her anticipation to give birth and finally, holding her baby in her arms. Just the thought can fill us with happiness.
G-d promised Abraham that he would have a child with Sara. Through His messenger He told them when. At the precise moment, G-d gave them Isaac, from whom all Jews descend.
In G-d we can trust, in G-d we can believe. G-d makes promises and delivers on them. One can never lose hope, because G-d can and will do miracles for you, just as He did for Abraham and Sara.
He will also keep His promise, to send Moshiach and take us out of this long and dark exile. The time has come.
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.
Last Is Most Precious
by Rabbi Zalman Bronstein
In 1942 I was drafted into the Red army. The situation at home was terrible. We had no bread and water, there were three little children, and on top of that I was now drafted.
Not many Chabad chassidim were drafted. It was extremely dangerous and whoever was able to, fled for his life. I had the "privilege" of being drafted and served in the Russian army for four years in difficult battles against the Germans. I experienced endless stories and wonders. I saw death before my eyes countless times but something supernatural always happened and my life was saved.
Right after I was drafted I was sent to serve in the 123 brigade. This brigade stood at the ready to serve as reserve units.
It was not easy being a Jew in the army as there was tremendous anti-Semitism. I remember that one of the soldiers once said to me nastily, "When we go on the attack at the front my first bullet won't be shot against the enemy but at your back."
When I was first inducted I had a pair of tefillin with me but it wasn't easy to put them on. I was afraid that I would be caught putting them on, which was dangerous, but I did it anyway. Every morning, when everyone else was still asleep in the bunker, I covered myself with my blanket and put on tefillin and said a quick prayer. The rest I prayed without tefillin.
When we were in the forest, I would wake up early and put on tefillin quickly among the trees. I did so every morning until I lost my tefillin.
At some point during the war I lost my night vision due to a vitamin deficiency. By day I could see and at night I was blind. One night, we went on an exhausting march. Since I could see nothing, two soldiers led me by the arms the entire way. We arrived at a village in the morning and, the way it was done then, the soldiers dispersed among the houses to rest. It was cold with both rain and snow. I also entered one of the homes. I took off my clothes and laid them on the stove to dry. I put the tefillin there too.
I was sound asleep when I suddenly heard an urgent call for all soldiers to appear outside. As a result of the rushing and confusion, I hurried to get dressed and go out and we were on our way within minutes. That is when I remembered that I had forgotten my tefillin but it was too late. I was inconsolable.
During my four years in the army I never ate cooked food, and managed on bread and vegetables. It wasn't easy but Hashem helped me in this too. Often, when we walked in fields, I pulled out potatoes. I had a pot with me that I filled with rainwater and I cooked the potatoes for myself.
As a result of inadequate nutrition, I became very weak. At a certain point I decided to stop eating almost completely in the hopes that my heart would become weaker and they would release me.
I was stricken with hepatitis and was hospitalized in Sverdlovsk in the Urals. When the doctors tried to give me food so I would regain some strength, I refused, saying I had no appetite.
One day, a Jewish doctor came and she whispered, "Bronstein, start shtuppen zich [Yid. stuffing yourself] and I promise you that if you eat more in the next two weeks, your heart will be a bit stronger and then we will send you on furlough. Right now we are afraid to release you because you will not be able to make the trip home."
I took her advice and over the next two weeks I started eating bread and vegetables. Two weeks later I was examined again and the doctor said she was pleased with the condition of my heart. She kept her promise and I was given two months off. I immediately traveled to Tashkent where I met my wife and children as well as my fellow Chassidim.
After two months I had to return to the army. I went to the hospital in Tashkent and gave a bribe so they would allow me to continue on furlough. I got another month with difficulty, but in the end I had to return to my unit which was camped not far from Smolensk.
When I returned to my unit a great and most shocking miracle occurred to me. Many soldiers were waiting to go to their next assignment when, suddenly, one of the commanders loudly announced that they needed a thousand soldiers for work. Our unit was a reserve unit and some of the soldiers were supposed to be sent to the front and some to work.
All the soldiers immediately ran to the registration window for they all preferred working to going to the front. Of course, I was among them. The line moved quickly. In front of me were just two soldiers and I was almost at the window when a thought popped into my mind, "acharon acharon chaviv" (the last is beloved). I did not understand why this thought came to me and gave me no rest. I left my place and moved to the back of the line so I could be last.
Then I realized what I had done. Oy, by the time it would be my turn, they would already have a thousand men who would be sent to work while I would be sent to the front! I tried to console myself by thinking it wasn't for nothing that the thought had come to my mind and there was something to it.
As soon as the registration was over, the thousand happy soldiers went off to work while I remained with the other soldiers, expecting to be sent to the burning front.
The next morning we received an order to start going. As we passed the fields we saw, to our horror, hundreds of bodies of dead soldiers with missing limbs. These were the soldiers who had registered for work but had actually been sent to an attack on the front lines and nobody remained alive.
I suddenly realized what "acharon acharon chaviv" meant. It was an open miracle.
From Beis Moshiach Magazine
Adams House, a local landmark located in Bethlehem, New York, is the new home of Bethlehem Chabad under the leadership of Rabbi Zalman and Chani Simon. The building was purchased just days before Rosh Hashana and with the help of community members the building was readied for the High Holidays. Bethlehem Chabad will eventually renovate the building, preserving the historic exterior. The new center will be used to for services, Jewish life celebrations, holiday programming, adult education, kids club and the Bethlehem food pantry.
Chabad Student Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado celebrated the grand opening of a kosher bistro to serve the university's Jewish students, faculty members and visitors. The Kosher Bistro is the brainchild of Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik, an adjunct professor at CSU.
Continued from a letter dated 10 Elul 5704 / August 29, 1944
- The thesis does not make it clear what is the criterion by which we can define and measure progress or regress. For instance, sweet apples as compared with sour apples may be regarded as an advancement only from the point of view of man's seeds, and by no means represent an absolute improvement. Similarly, sharp eyesight is an advantage and sign of higher form only with respect to animals in need of same, but it is a sign of inferiority in an animal which has no use for it, for why should it "feed" and care for a sharp eye when it does not have to use it? We know, for example, that the horses working in coal mines gradually lose the power of their eyes, or that some fish living in deep waters where the sunrays to do not reach have practically no eyesight, or no eyes at all.
Generally speaking, it is only according to our judgment in comparing simple organisms with complicated ones that we can say that in the general line of development, the former are of a lower order; but from the point of view of the organism itself, and the struggle for existence, it is exactly the opposite, for the simpler organisms enjoy easier conditions and are more resisting to destructive forces than more advanced organisms. (You can cut up a worm in part without destroying its life; the worm needs simple food which is easily procurable; it is not subject to sickness to the extent of higher forms of life, etc.)
- According to the scheme of development as outlined in your thesis, all things develop first as individual organs, and then are combined into a structure or constitution, forming a more complex organism, which is an advancement as far as each component part is concerned. The question arises here, who or what is the coordinating force that brings two or more separate things together and coordinates and combines them, so that they mutually complement each other? There must therefore be some coordinating force outside and above these organisms in question that rules over them and brings them together to fulfill a purpose which is also outside and above the organisms in question.
In connection with your thesis I will outline some principles based on the teachings and philosophy of Chabad:
- G-d created the entire universe, and each and all existing things have a Divine "spark" that vitalizes them, without which they would turn into nothingness and extinction. The "spark" is not visible, but surely is there as in the case of a man's soul, which is invisible, yet is unmistakably there.
- The more clearly this Divine invisible spark is discernable, the nearer the thing approaches to its true status, and it is this growing revelation of the Divine spark that marks the progress or development of the thing in question.
- The Creator is the origin of all life and its very basis, and therefore the greater the degree of vitality possessed by a thing, the more advanced its form in the general pattern of Creation. Thus we have a general classification of the Creation with its four grades: the inanimate, plant life, animal, and man, one higher than the other.
- The Creator is absolutely free, for He created both the Universe and its laws. Only man, of all creatures, has something similar to that freedom and choice, which is one of the proofs that man stands over and above all other creatures in the general pattern of development.
- If man, by his actions of a free will and choice, does the opposite of the desired purpose of Creation - which is the growing revelation of the Divine spark within him, or within things surrounding him - and rather adds to obscurity and concealment of the Divine, he does not merely fail to advance on the scale of development, but actually recedes from it, and brings down with him also the other things involved and generally brings destruction in the world.
But if through his free choice and will he chooses to do a good deed, bringing forth increased Divine revelation, he thus does not merely advance in the course of his own development, which is possible by all creatures fulfilling their purpose, but by such act he brings something constructive and new into the Creation of his own; that is, he performs an act of Creation. Thus, it is possible to say that the Creator gave man power of creation, and as our Sages said (Bereshith Rabbah 98): "Israel (Jacob) creates worlds."
Should you wish to further discuss some aspects of the above, I should be glad to take it up with you. Please do not hesitate to communicate with me on any such subject at any time.
With kindest personal regards and best wishes for a kesiva vechasima tovah.
Very sincerely yours,
Why is the Hebrew letter "shin" on the front of the mezuza cover?
"Shin" is the first letter of one of G d's names, "Shad-dai" - Alm-ghty. It is also an acronym for "Shomer Delatot Yisrael - Guardian of the Doors of Israel." Thus, it is appropriate to be on the mezuza cover. In addition to being on the mezuza cover, the word Shad-dai is also written on the back of the mezuza parchment itself.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Monday, the 20th of Cheshvan, we mark the birthday of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, (known as the Rebbe Rashab), the fifth Chabad Rebbe.
Rabbi Sholom Ber was a great tzadik and a person of tremendous insight. This can be illustrated by the following incident.
Rabbi Sholom Ber founded, in 1897, the Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva in the city of Lubavitch. The Rebbe Rashab was an honorary member of the council which was formed to help establish the new government's policy toward the Jews after the deposition of the Czar. In 1918 he traveled to Petersburg to participate in a council meeting. At one of the stops on the journey, he sent his attendant to buy a newspaper. Returning with the newspaper, the attendant read to the Rebbe Rashab: "The Communists have taken over, and the council has been abolished."
The Rebbe Rashab responded, "We must now establish yeshivos in every city. I do not see their [the Communists'] end, but ultimately, their end too, will come..."
In the (former) Soviet Union, as the Communist arm stretched forth with ever increasing strength, the yeshivos went underground. Today, there are hundreds of people living all over the world who were educated in those underground yeshivos. Yeshivos now exist in over a dozen cities throughout the FSU including Tbilisi, Moscow, Minsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Kishinev, and Kharkov.
Dozens of Tomchei Temimim Yeshivos continue to educate young Jews in Canada, Australia, Israel, Venezuela, and throughout the United States.
How visionary were the Rebbe Rashab's words concerning the ultimate demise of Communism.
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him. (Gen. 18:19)
Rashi comments that the phrase "For I know him" implies love and affection for Abraham. G-d loved Abraham because He knew that Abraham would teach his children to follow in his footsteps. As great and impressive as Abraham's worship of G-d was, more worthy of merit was the fact that he could be counted on to instruct others.
To do righteousness and justice (Gen. 18:19)
When G-d bestows wealth and abundance on a Jew, he must honestly judge himself and ask: "Am I really worthy of all this goodness? What have I done to deserve these blessings?" When a person is thus honest with himself, it will cause him to realize that the sharing of his wealth with those less fortunate is truly tzedaka - righteousness.
In all that Sara may say to you - hearken unto her voice (Gen. 21:12)
The Talmud states: Three tzadikim were given a taste of the World to Come in this world - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the World to Come, the prophecy - "the female will surround and encompass the male," and "a woman of valor is the crown of her husband" (Proverbs) will be fulfilled. Abraham was given a glimpse of this when G-d told him to heed the words of Sara, who was an even greater prophet than he.
G-d appeared to him (Gen. 18:1)
Rashi explains that the entire reason for G-d's appearing to Avraham was for the purpose of "visiting the sick." From here we learn the greatness of the commanment of visiting the sick.
Once, Rabbi Shalom Ber, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch (known as the Rebbe Rashab) and his son, Yosef Yitzchak, went to a meeting in Vilna. On their return to Lubavitch from the meeting, they spent Shabbat in Baranowitz which wasn't a particularly large town.
When they arrived at the train station in Baranowitz, it was late Thursday night. Outside, there were some wagon drivers. The wagon driver who they chose was a simple, G-d fearing Jew. As soon as he saw the guests, he realized that they weren't ordinary people. He asked them where they wanted to go and they asked him to take them to the local inn. The wagon driver realized this was a rare opportunity and he invited them to stay in his house, saying it was large and had a clean, spacious room for guests. The Rebbe and his son did not accept the invitation and asked him to take them to the local inn.
Before saying goodbye, the wagon driver said at least could they come to him on Shabbat morning to have a hot drink. He said he had a cow. He even showed them that his house wasn't far from the inn.
Shabbat morning, the Rebbe said to his son they had to go to the wagon driver's house for a hot drink as they had been requested. Upon arriving there, they found him reciting Psalms out loud and sweetly. When he saw his distinguished guests, he rejoiced and welcomed them. There was nobody happier than he, as he hosted these important guests, even though he did not know their identity.
After they drank, the Rebbe and his son continued to the local shul. The worshipers saw that they were not the typical businessmen who stayed with them on occasion, but nobody knew who they were. When they had an aliya to the Torah, they pledged generously. Nobody dared to ask them who they were except for their names by which they were called to the Torah.
The guests went back to shul for Mincha. The sexton, who was used to guests leaving right after Shabbat, went to them after Maariv in order to collect the money they had pledged in the morning when they had been called up to the Torah. At just that moment, someone from a nearby town, who regularly went to Lubavitch, arrived at the inn. He immediately recognized the Rebbe and told everyone excitedly, "That is the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his son!"
The announcement generated great excitement and the news spread rapidly in Baranowitz. Many went to the inn and asked the Rebbe to pardon them for not honoring him as befit his station. They asked him to stay with them for at least one more day and promised to donate nice sums toward the yeshiva he founded, but the Rebbe said he could not stay. When the train came, he and his son returned to Lubavitch.
"You see," said the man who told the story, "that G-d fulfills the will of those who fear him. Since the Rebbe did not want people to know who he was, they did not know all Shabbat and only found out shortly before he left."
One winter, the Rebbe Rashab spent several months in Vienna for medical treatment. With him was his son, Reb Yosef Yitzchak (later to become the sixth Rebbe).
Every once in a while, the Rebbe Rashab and his son would go out for a walk and visit one of the small shuls (synagogues) in the area. There, they would sit quietly, listening to the gems of wisdom from these Polish chasidim.
On one such evening, they went to a little shul and found a group of old chasidim trading stories about the famous Reb Meir of Premishlan. One old chasid related that the mikva for was located on the top of a steep hill on the outskirts of Premishlan. When the road was slippery from rain or snow, people had to take the long way around; to walk directly up the hill was dangerous.
One winter day, when snow and cold temperatures had made the icy paths extremely dangerous, Reb Meir walked straight uphill to the mikva as was his usual custom.
The local inhabitants were not surprised in the least. They had witnessed this "mini miracle" many times. However, there were two guests staying nearby, who were under the influence of the "Enlightenment" movement. These young men did not believe in miracles. So, when they saw Reb Meir walking up the steep hill, they were certain that it was perfectly safe.
After Reb Meir had entered the building which housed the mikva, the two young men started their climb. Without going more than a few steps, both young men fell on the slippery path and needed medical attention for their bruises.
After he was all healed, one of the young men mustered up his courage and approached Reb Meir. "Why is it, Rebbe," he asked with utmost respect, "that no one can negotiate that slippery path, yet the Rebbe walks with such sure steps?"
Answered Reb Meir, "If a person is tied on 'high,' he doesn't fall down below. Meir is tied on 'high' and for this reason he can walk up even a slippery hill."
Sometime later, on one of his daily walks ordered by his doctors, the Rebbe Rashab and his son were walking through the city gardens.
While they walked side by side, the Rebbe Rashab became deeply engrossed in his thoughts. Without realizing it, he drew the attention of many passers-by. He continued walking thus for a long time and his son became more and more uncomfortable. Finally, he could contain himself no longer, and he sighed.
The Rebbe Rashab paused in his walk, distressed to think that something had caused his son to become morose or depressed. He said, "Why do you sigh? If a man is tied up on high, he doesn't fall down below!"
"And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great fesast on the day that Isaac was weaned." (Gen. 21:8) The Midrash notes that the word "weaned," yigamal, is related to gomel, "bestow kindness," and explains the verse as an allusion to the great feast of the final Redemption. The Midrash teaches that at the conclusion of the feast, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua will each in turn claim they are unfit to lead the Grace after Meals. When David will be handed the cup, he will say, "I will bless! ..."