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L'Chaim
August 24, 2018 - 13 Elul, 5778

1536: Ki Seitzei

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  1535: Shoftim1537: Ki Savo  

Farming Sunshine  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  All Together  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Farming Sunshine

California state currently has seven working solar farms, with three more under construction and one in the planning stage. California has actually produced so much solar power on certain days that it paid Arizona to take excess electricity its residents weren't using to avoid overloading its own power lines.

While 10% of California's energy is currently supplied by solar panels, it is mandated that by 2030 a full 500% of its energy just be renewable (not fossil).

Transforming sunlight into electricity is not only an engineering challenge, and a geo-political necessity, it is also a metaphor, one that Chasidic teachings began using and developing 200 years ago. The transforming-sunlight-to-energy metaphor provides insight into our spiritual nature.

Our purpose, the performance of mitzvot (commandments), is to transform the world - to make it a dwelling place for G-dliness. The electricity entering our homes, transmitted through wires, outlets and then electric cords, powers our dishwashers, air-conditioning and computers, transforming our houses into places of comfort and production.

Similarly, we should direct our spiritual energy - the electricity of our souls - to transforming the realm of human relationships and awareness of the Divine. As Maimonides writes in his code of Jewish law, regarding the times of Moshiach, that then there will be neither jealousy nor greed, neither war nor famine. In other words, relations between individuals and between nations will be harmonious, and for each other's mutual benefit.

Also in the times of Moshiach, all humanity will direct its attention to the "knowledge of G-dliness." We will focus not on accumulating things or statistics but on deepening our awareness of and appreciation of G-d's Presence in the physical world.

But how do we achieve this? Whence our spiritual "electricity" which becomes ours - ours to use, and our responsibility to use to transform the world? Following the analogy, from some form of spiritual sunlight.

What is this "sunlight"? Well, what do we mean when we say someone "enlightens" us, or they "light up our life"? We mean they inspire us, reveal to us something about ourselves we weren't aware of, provide direction and guidance in how best to actualize our potential.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that on the 18th of Elul, twelve days before Rosh Hashana, we celebrate the birthday of two luminaries of the Jewish world - the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism in general, and Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidism in particular. (Indeed, the Alter Rebbe's first name means "two lights.")

So the sunlight is shining. We have within ourselves the spiritual photovoltaic cells to gather this spiritual sunlight and transform it into spiritual energy with which to transform the physical world into a dwelling place for G-dliness. All we need do is harvest it, to tend the solar farm of our souls.

Adapted from an article by Dr. David YB Kaufmann, obm


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we read that "When you build a new house, you must make a guard-rail for your roof, in order that you won't cause bloodshed in your house, by he who falls, falling off of it."

The law of making a guard-rail applies even when you buy a house that you didn't build, as well as to a house that you have owned all along. So why does the verse say, "When you build a new house?"

The Sifri explains that "new" means from the time it is new to you, and even before you move into the house. The moment you have a roof, whether you built it or bought it, you are obligated to make a guard-rail. The commandment of the guard-rail is not like the mezuza, whose obligation doesn't begin until after you move into the house.

This leaves us with a question. From the words in our verse, "When you build a new house," it seems that the obligation is only for a new house. Why doesn't the verse use a term that indicates that every house needs a guard-rail on the roof?

The verses in the Torah are meant to be understood on many levels. Looking more deeply into this verse, we can learn lessons that apply to all of us, even to one who doesn't own a house.

On a deeper level "house" refers to the body, for the body houses the soul when it is in this world. This verse then refers to when the soul comes into the body. It is called a "new house" because for the G-dly soul, the physical world is all new. The soul is at risk of falling, in fact it is "falling," because for the soul it is a great and constant descent, having to deal with the body's natural yearning for wordly matters, which is not the interest of the soul. At the same time, the soul is happy to be in her new home, because she knows that through the work of the body she is able to make this world into a dwelling place for G-d and draw down levels of G-dliness, beyond anything she experienced before.

How does this work? When we do our part, making this world into a dwelling for G-d, we are creating for Him a "new home." Everything we do down here affects the spiritual realms as well. We so to speak create a new home for G-d above. What is new about it, is that there is an expansion in the spiritual realms allowing for levels of G-dliness that before were beyond the loftiest spiritual realms to enter the spiritual realms. And ultimately, we are able to draw these levels of G-dliness into the physical as well.

To be able to do this work, we have to make a guard-rail or saftey-fence. First, by setting boundaries and protections not to falter, and by creating a degree of separation, so we can be in the world and at the same time separate.

May we be successful in drawing down G-dliness into the physical, making it a home for G-d His presence will fill the world openly, and Moshiach will be here. May it happen soon.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the Rebbe's teachings, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.


A Slice of Life

Lamplighters All
by Richard Morris

Each year during the month of Elul I find myself thinking back to the many steps I took along the path of my return to my Judaism. And while there might not be any one reason for my return, there was a very simple occurrence 30 years ago that has proven to be a most significant part of that path.

I grew up in the Bronx. And although we were not observant, my mother did maintain a kosher kitchen that my grandmother had set up when they emigrated here from Russia. So, of course, in that kind of home environment, anything Jewish became very familiar to me. We always had beautiful Passover seders, always celebrated the High Holy Days, and for my bar mitzvah - I got my first pair of tefillin!

And so, many years later, when I was asked by a young Chabad rabbi in Los Angeles if I'd like to put on tefillin (for the first time, then, since my bar mitzva), I remembered those past Jewish influences in my life, and I said yes! (That young rabbi, of whom I've written about in these pages before, turned out to be Rabbi Shlomo Kugel who became the founder and director of Chabad of the West Side of Manhattan.) Even though that chance meeting was significant for me, I can't say that at that time I was ready to put on tefillin on a daily basis.

But years later (around 1988), when I had the chance to attend a Turn Friday Night Into Shabbat dinner at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, I remembered the day of putting on tefillin in Los Angeles - along with all the other past influences - and I did go to Turn Friday Night Into Shabbat. And, like that, another influence was added!

And by having the chance to learn, firsthand, the rituals of a Shabbat dinner: the blessing on the wine, ritually washing the hands, saying the blessing on the challah - things, I assure you, I had never done before - it changed everything.

I started looking forward to Shabbat each week. And eventually I never missed a one. And from that point on, for me, Friday night really did turn into Shabbat! Of course, I remembered Friday nights in the Bronx, but we never called it Shabbat or Shabbos. We just called it, well, Friday night. But now with Friday night becoming Shabbat, I started becoming more and more curious as to what Jewish observance was really all about.

Which brings me back to that occurrence 30 years ago, when I attended a Jewish book discussion class. In the class was a fellow named Andre Berger from West Palm Beach, Florida. And when we had the chance to talk after class I found out that he was a Jewish artist who had painted a giant, fiery, Torah-themed mural on the building facing Oholei Torah, a Chabad-Lubavitch boys' yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. (The mural was covered-up when the center added a new building.)

And now back to the conversation after class with Andre, the subject turned to tefillin. And Andre Berger said something that has stayed with me ever since: He said, "Yep, I wrap myself up in that tefillin every weekday morning!"

My reaction was, "You put on tefillin?" My meaning was that someone like you, an artist, actually puts on tefillin? Hmm. I didn't readily associate cool people, like artists, with putting on tefillin!

And like all the other influences, Andre's words stayed with me - and became a pivotal moment in my thinking about my Judaism. And, thinking back, that was what I needed. That encounter with an everyday Jew, and an artist at that, enabled me to feel so much more comfortable about giving tefillin another try.... And soon after, when I had the chance to join a shul near where I lived in Manhattan, it was - miraculously, somehow - yes - ready? - Rabbi Kugel's shul!). And from that first day at Rabbi Kugel's shul, I was ready to start putting on tefillin everyday ... and I haven't missed a weekday morning of putting on tefillin ever since!

No one occurrence, no one experience, no one memory.... But all of it adding up to one continuous message. And as I've seen so many times before, Chabad shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe) are the ones who are in the forefront of outreaching to fellow Jews with that universal Jewish message. And for that work they are known as lamplighters.

But to those of you who are, like me, one of those everyday Jews - who might be well along or on any part of the path of becoming observant - we can all certainly become even a small part of the shluchim's work by sharing with fellow Jews who might-not-yet even know about observance. After all, aren't we really lamplighters all? Let's wish - all - fellow Jews a happy Rosh Hashana. That seems like a very good place to start.

And, Andre Berger, if you happen to be reading about my experiences here, please let me know! We never exchanged contact info and I, of course, would like to hear from you and thank you.

Richard Morris was one of the original eight writers and a frequent guest comedian on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman, and is the author of Funny You Should Think About a Return to Judaism. He performs a Shabbat program Comedy and Coming Home, and can be reached at info@richardmorrisworks.com

What's New

New Emissaries, New Centers

Rabbi Mendy and Menucha Blank will be moving to the S. Francisco Bay area to open Chabad of Emeryville, California. Emeryville hosts the headquarters to companies like Pixar and LeapFrog, nestled between Oakland and Berkeley and directly across the Golden Gate Bridge. The couple will service approximately 1,000 Jewish residents as well as professionals who commute from the bigger cities. They plan to open with High Holiday services and child-focused programming catered to young families.

Rabbi Sadya and Shimona Davidoff have moved to the North Seattle area to establish a new Chabad center in Shoreline, Washington. The new emissaries have already begun hosting Shabbat dinners for the community, a 'Torah & Tea on Tuesdays' class and a monthly Challah baking experience.


The Rebbe Writes

22nd of Shvat, 5724 [1964]

Greeting and Blessing;

I am in receipt of your letter, in which you dwell on the question of Divine foreknowledge and human freedom of action. You also ask how is it possible that the Kesivo va Chasimo Toivo, which implies predestination, can be reconciled with the idea of freedom of action.

As you surely know, much has been written and published on this subject, and it is also difficult to discuss such a topic adequately in a letter. Nevertheless, inasmuch as you have asked the question, I will attempt to give you a few salient points which should help t clear up this problem in your mind.

The apparent contradiction between Divine knowledge and human freedom comes from the misconceptions of what this Divine knowledge means and is being confused with predetermination and predestination. By way of illustration: when a person knows how another individual acted in the past, obviously this knowledge did not affect the choice of action of that particular individual, whose action preceded that knowledge. Similarly, foreknowledge need not affect the choice of action of an individual. To illustrate this further, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that there is a clairvoyant individual who can foresee a certain action in the future, this foreknowledge would not affect the course of events, inasmuch as they are taking place regardless of the foreknowledge of that clairvoyant individual. A further illustration: a psychologist who knows a very close individual well and for many years could predict what that individual will do in the next few moments or hours, again, this knowledge would not affect the actual behavior of that individual. Now, bearing in mind that G-d's knowledge is infinitely greater than that of the psychologist in the illustration, it is surely not surprising that He would know in advance, not only for a period of minutes or hours, but months and years.

Your question how the Kesivo va Chasimo Toiva can be reconciled with the idea of freedom throughout the year inasmuch as a Kesiva va Chasimo Toiva already implies predestination, this question has been particularly dealt with in the Likutei Torah of the Old Rebbe, and more recently, and at greater length in the Kuntres Umaayon of my father-in-law of saintly memory. I am certain that your friends, whom you mention in your letter, have these books.

The essential point here is that the Divine determination of Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur is one "in potential" which has yet to be actualized. The actual realization of this depends on the Divine judgment which takes place every day, and which depends largely upon the individual's conduct. The illustration in the above sources is this: suppose an individual was judged on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur to attain wealth during the year. "Wealth" can be expressed in a variety of ways, such as wealth of knowledge or other spiritual matters such as intellectual or emotional insights, etc.; it may also be expressed in material things, as commonly understood. The same is true in everything else. The final result is determined by the individual's own choice of actions and conduct, which come before Divine scrutiny and judgment every day. That is why we have our daily prayer of the Shmone Esre, even though there had already been general judgment on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur.

I trust that the above will not only clarify the matter, but will also serve as a reminder that the essential thing is the deed and the daily conduct in the fulfillment of the mitzvoth in the daily life. Moreover, this also gives a greater insight into the understanding of the mitzvoth and the general Jewish outlook on life, which can come not from theoretical speculation about the mitzvoth, but from their actual performance. Here again, the illustration may be found in the physical world: if a person wants to understand the process of digestion and how physical food turns into energy, etc., the way to go about it is not stop eating and drinking, pending the understanding of the process, for this would only weaken the mind and body, and lessen the capacity for understanding. Rather, the opposite is true. It is necessary to sustain the body and strengthen it. The same is true of medicine, where it would be obviously foolish to refuse to take it because of a lack of knowledge how the medicine will help restore good health. So, and much more so, in the case of the Divine Mitzvoth, which must be observed first of all, and the effort to understand them must come later, and must not be a condition of their fulfillment.

With blessing,

From The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications


All Together

CHAIM means "life." The name is often given as an additional name to one who is critically ill. The feminine version is "Chaya."

CHAVA means "mother of all living." Chava ("Eve") was the first woman, mother of all humanity, the wife of Adam (Genesis 2:23). According to Rashi, Chava is a derivative of "Chaya" which means "living one."


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The 18th of Elul (Wednesday, August 29 this year) is the birthday of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the general Chasidic movement. It is also the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the foremost disciples of the Baal Shem Tov's successor and the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic philosophy.

One of the main teachings of the Baal Shem Tov was to always remember G-d and to mention His name constantly. The obligation to remember G-d constantly and thank Him begins as soon as a Jew wakes up in the morning. Before he does anything else, he must say "Modeh Ani - I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King, for having mercifully returned my soul to me. Your faithfulness is great."

The lesson of Modeh Ani, that everything we have comes from G-d and we must constantly thank Him, is connected to another important teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: G-d did not merely create the world once, thousands of years ago. He constantly recreates everything anew, every single moment, and gives it new life.

The purpose of this "continual creation" is to allow us to appreciate G-d's kindness. G-d "takes the trouble" so to speak, to constantly recreate each one of us. When a person realizes that G-d is giving him life and everything he has, every moment, he will want to constantly thank Him.

The above teachings have a special connection not only to the Baal Shem Tov but to his birthday on the 18th day of Elul as well. For the Hebrew word "chai-life" equals 18. Thus, the 18th of Elul, Chai Elul, helps us add "life" and enthusiasm to our appreciation of and feelings of thanks for our Creator.

May we merit this very Chai Elul to experience true and eternal life as G-d intended it to be with the complete revelation of Moshiach and the commencement of the Redemption.


Thoughts that Count

Hillel used to say: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" (Ethics 1:14)

This teaching can be interpreted within the context of the charge to reach out to others (mishnah 12). If I am not for myself - I.e., if I do not take an active role in these efforts...Who is for me? - What merit will I have? Whether or not a person involves himself, the task he was required to fulfill will be accomplished, for the good destined to be achieved in our world will not be decreased. Nevertheless, when a person does not shoulder the task destined for him, he will lack the merit he was fated to acquire. And if I am only for myself - A person may be willing to apply himself to the task before him, but "only for himself," without seeking advice or help from others. And then... What - not who am I? - i.e., he falls beneath the level of humanity. And if not now, when? - He must be conscious of the urgency involved, and not postpone his efforts.

(Sichot Shabbos Parshas Shemini, 5737)


Shimon his son said: "All my days I grew up among the Sages and did not find anything better for one's person than silence. "Study is not the essential thing, practice is; and whoever engages in excessive talk brings on sin." (Ethics 1:17)

Study is not the essential thing, practice is - Since the purpose of creation as a whole is to give G-d a dwelling in the lower worlds,54 living the Torah in deed and action - and not merely in thought and speech - is of fundamental priority.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1186)


From In the Paths of Our Fathers, sie.org


It Once Happened

Chai, the 18th of, Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the great tzadik who brought Chasidut to the modern world and initiated its dissemination which will bring about the Redemption. Here are some reflections on the tzadik and his wisdom:

The Baal Shem Tov (the Besht) was once asked, "Why is it important for Jews to travel to visit the tzadikim of their generation? Why isn't it sufficient to read the words of the great Sages?"

He replied with the following Scriptural verse: "G-d said to Moses, 'Write this down in a book and place it in Joshua's ears.'" It might seem, at first, to be sufficient to commit Torah teaching to writing, but we see that Moses was told to transmit it personally to his pupil, Joshua. Thus we see that when a Jew, with his own ears, hears Torah taught from the tzadik of his generation, it makes a lasting impression on him which influences his whole life.

To be in the presence of a tzadik has an impact on a person far greater than medicine. For a drug is capable of curing a person's illness, but it has no lasting impact on his future life. A visit to a tzadik, on the other hand, inspires in the person a holiness which endures long after he has returned home.

The Baal Shem Tov said, "Whoever spent a Shabbat with me, whoever ate at my table, has absorbed a portion of purity and sanctity which will protect him from evil desires long after he has departed from me."


Once the disciples of Reb Aharon Leib of Premizlan were sitting on a Friday afternoon, telling wondrous stories of the Baal Shem Tov.

Suddenly the door opened and Reb Aharon Leib entered from the adjoining room and spoke to them:

"Don't speak about the Baal Shem Tov's miracles, but rather his great piety and saintliness. Every Friday, when it approached midday, the Besht's heart began to pound and his insides would begin to rumble. Anyone standing near him would be aware of this noise, which was caused by his awe and trembling in the face of the approaching Shabbat."


Once the Baal Shem Tov visited a town where he was accorded the greatest honor and respect. He told the townspeople who gathered around him:

"You should know that when a person is honored and acclaimed by people, he is immediately brought to the attention of the Heavenly Court. All of his deeds are examined in the most exacting way to see if he is worthy of such honor. For one who is blessed with Divine wisdom and awe, it is a good thing, for he immediately examines his own deeds. His introspection causes him to do teshuva, and that makes all the honor he has received worthwhile.


It was once asked of the Rebbe of Ziditchov, "Why are these times different from previous ages? Since the Besht arrived in this world, he has drawn a huge multitude of followers to his teachings, which are essentially those of the 'Ari' (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria), whereas the Holy Ari did not attract such a large following. What is it in the Baal Shem Tov that has allowed him to have such great success in spreading his teachings?"

The Rebbe replied by way of a parable:

"Once, the people in a certain country were in need of a new leader. They had heard that there was an exceptional person living in a far- away land and they wondered if perhaps he might be the leader they were seeking. He was said to have great physical beauty as well as the noblest character -- indeed he was unique in his wonderful qualities. Still, they couldn't make up their minds about his worth until one man who had just returned from his land described what he had seen with his own eyes. Still, with his vivid descriptions, he succeeded in convincing only some of the citizens.

One wise person decided to take the initiative to go to that distant land and fetch the candidate back with him to his country. When the people of the land saw with their own eyes the marvelous qualities of the candidate, they unanimously rose and crowned him king.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his followers were the first to reveal Holy secrets in the Zohar, but this book was closed to all but the initiates. Then came the Holy Ari who spread these teachings amongst the populace. But he, too, attracted only the greatest scholars, for his writings were very lofty and difficult to apprehend. When the Baal Shem Tov came to this world, he succeeded in showing that G-dliness is inherent in even the tiniest speck of matter in this low world. The Besht taught us how to reach G-d through each of our deeds, thought and speech, even the most mundane, and so, he succeeded in bringing all people closer to the Creator.


Moshiach Matters

"A man's attire must not be worn by a woman; a man must not wear a women's garment." (Deut 22:5) When a woman mistakenly thinks that she must behave like a man and pursue a man's path, she implicitly affirms that women are intrinsically inferior to men. In order to cultivate a sense of self-worth, she must therefore compete with men. The Torah forbids such an affront to the status of women. Instead, it celebrates and values women's femininity, encouraging them to develop their innate female qualities. In this way, women can make their unique and crucial contributions to society, bringing the world to its ultimate, Divine fulfillment.

(From Daily Wisdom, translated and adapted by Moshe Wisnefsky from talks of the Rebbe)


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