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Making up for lost time. That's what we say we're doing when we meet old friends or relatives we haven't seen in a long time, and we sit for hours and hours, talking. At other times we "burn the midnight oil" when we don't seem to get enough accomplished during the day, or have to catch up from a long weekend.
Or sometimes, in anticipation of an upcoming vacation, or hectic time in our lives, we do things to "get ahead." We work over-time, fill up the pantry and freezer, clear our schedule.
This year, the Jewish calendar has a month that helps facilitate making up for lost time and "catching up." It is an extra month, distinguishing this year as a leap year.* The Jewish calendar was established according to the moon's cycle and has an extra month every two or three years to compensate for its shorter months (the lunar calendar has 11 less days than the solar calendar).
Not all Leap Years in our calendar are the same. This year has the distinction of having the maximum number of days that any Leap Year can have - 385 days.
This year, in a spiritual sense, we can compensate for lost time as well as "get ahead." And because this year has the maximum number of days, we have the greatest and most complete opportunity to make up for past deficiencies and jump-start future achievements.
By making a firm commitment to improve in the future and increase our involvement in Jewish activities, we not only affect the approaching days and months, we actually rectify the past as well. And we're not only talking about the recent past, we're talking about the past two or three years, the years that the added month is completing.
Of course, we're making up for the past in a qualitative rather than quantitative sense. We have been given a whole month to accomplish this feat; not a 27-hour day or an eight-day week, but a thirteen-month year.
Practically speaking, an added month means that we have additional time to do more mitzvot. We can give extra charity, do more "nice" things for people, spend more time ensuring that every Jewish child receives a Jewish education...the list is endless. So don't lose time, start NOW.
*) The Jewish "leap year", which occurs seven times in a 19-year cycle, has 13 months instead of the regular year's 12. This is so that the lunar-based Jewish year should remain aligned with the solar seasons. The added month is called "Adar I" and is inserted before the month of Adar (termed "Adar II" in leap years).
In the first verse of this week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d commanded Abraham, "Go out, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." G-d continues to tell Avraham that, "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great." This is the first command to the first Jew, therefore, there must be a message here for every Jewish person, for all time. What is the message?
There are two approaches to understanding this verse. The first is that it is referring to the journey of the soul, a descent from above to below. The soul is asked to leave its home in the highest spiritual realms, and make the descent into the lowest possible realm, the physical world. But it is here that it affects the most change and accomplishes its purpose, and the effect is so powerful, that it brings G-d's blessing and becomes great. Meaning, that the soul is uplifted to higher spiritual realms, beyond where it was before its descent.
In this way of understanding the verse, we are given a glimpse of our purpose, the goal of every Jew, to make this world into a better place, the way G-d wants it. A place where G-d could call home.
The second approach is more in line with the simple meaning of the verse. It refers to the ascent from below to above we must make every day from the lowly and mundane, from "your land, your birthplace, and your father's house," which in the context of the verse, refers to a place and an atmosphere of idol worship, " to the land that I will show you," the land of Israel, a place of holiness.
This is especially poignant now after the Tishrei holidays, when we are thrust into the mundane. After the holidays, every Jew "goes out," doing his mission to transform his part of the world into a dwelling place for G-d.
It is through Torah, mitzvahs and living the life of a Jew that transforms this world, and we have the power to do it, we inherited it from our forefather Abraham. It is through this work that we complete Hashem's command to Abraham, "Lech Lecha."
Although these two explanations are opposites, the first a descent, and the second an ascent, they are both explanations of the same verse, and therefore simultaneously true. And we have to take both messages at the same time. That we have descended to effect this world, and we should try to change it from the bottom up.
So "Lech Lecha," is a call to every Jewish person, to do all you can to complete the mission and make this world into a home for Hashem. It is through both of these approaches working simultaneously that we create an environment that the highest levels of G-dliness, even the levels that are beyond the world, to enter the world and become part of our lives.
This is the key to the blessings found in Lech Lecha and the path to the ultimate blessing, the coming of Moshiach.
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.
Make Someone Happy
by Reb Gutman Locks
I hurried out of my apartment on my way to go daven (pray). There was a mommy with a baby carriage, a tiny girl on one side and a bigger little girl on the other side. They were all looking back down the street at their two "bigger" brothers who were maybe five or six years old. Mommies take a long time to go anywhere, and this one seemed to be stuck waiting for whatever the boys were up to.
When I walked by the boys they said something to me while pointing to a tall bush growing next to the building. I couldn't understand their tiny voices, but they pointed again to the bush, and they squeaked whatever it was they wanted.
I had no idea what the problem was. I looked up at the bush, and I told the boys that I didn't see anything there.
One of the boys motioned for me to come stand over where he was, and he pointed up at the bush again. I went over and from there I could see a tiny part of their ball that was stuck high up in the bush.
The boys held out two options for me to choose from, a heavy chain with a lock, or a bicycle tire. I chose the bicycle tire. I threw it up at the top of the bush really hard, but I missed it completely. It didn't come near where I wanted it to go. It hit the wall and fell to the sidewalk. No one was happy. I picked it up and tried again.
OY! The tire got stuck on the top of the bush. Now the kids lost their ball and their tire, too. Yuck!
But the bush was still shaking from the tire hitting it... and the tire fell to the sidewalk. Thanks for at least that much. But then, the bush... still shaking a little... and guess what? The ball fell to the sidewalk. Hooray!
Everyone yelled...happy. The boys grabbed their ball and tire and ran after their Mommy who I could see had a huge smile.
What a happy moment. B"H, the boys got their ball, Mommy could get the kids home, and I was going to daven right after having done a very nice good deed.
Making people happy makes you happy. You want to be happy? Go help someone else to be happy...it's automatic.
He walked up to me smiling. He didn't seem Jewish. I asked him if his mother was Jewish and he said, "No," so I motioned that he could go on to the Kotel (Western Wall). But then he said, "But, my grandmother was Jewish."
"Your father's mother, or your mother's mother?"
"My mother's mother."
"If your mother's mother was Jewish then your mother is Jewish no matter what religion she follows. And if your mother is Jewish then you are Jewish. Are you sure that your mother's mother is Jewish?"
He said, "Yes, we all knew it."
Right then everything turned around for him.
I put tefillin on him and he read the Shema out loud in English. I sent him to the Kotel to open his heart.
A new man. I explained now that he knows he is a Jew he has to go learn what this means ... what he is supposed to do about it. I told him to go to the Chabad House in his town. One of the smartest things Chabad does is not to insist on a Jew already being Torah observant before they are welcomed into the congregation.
He walked in looking like a friendly gentile tourist, and he walked out a Jew excited to see what his new life is going to bring.
He is a smart guy!
He came up to me at my tefillin cart and said, "Seven years ago you saw me smoking and you yelled at me to quit. Actually, you yelled at me a few times because I didn't listen at first, but finally I listened, and I quit smoking. I haven't smoked in seven years. Not only that, but like you said, now that I quit I can't stand the smell of them.
"Then you yelled at me to get rid of my non-Jewish girlfriend, and I listened to you. And, thank G-d, I married a wonderful Jewish girl.
"And now, just today, I received my rabbinical ordination, so I am a rabbi. Thank you very much for changing my life."
Smart guy... he listened to good advice and look where it took him.
He is from Russia, but he moved to Israel some years ago. When he first walked by he said that he didn't have time to put on tefillin because people were waiting for him. I told him that it would take only one minute, and I gently pulled his arm. After reading the Shema in Russian I told him to pray for his family and to thank G-d.
He gave a big smile and in Hebrew, but with a thick Russian accent, loudly said, "Baruch Hashem (thank G-d) I live in Israel. Baruch Hashem I have an apartment. Baruch Hashem I have food. Baruch Hashem I am healthy. Baruch Hashem...and he kept going on and on and on.
This Jew knows the secret to living a happy life. Thank G-d for all the good things He is giving you and not only will you be happy with what you have, but He will then give you even more. Baruch Hashem
Gutman Locks lives in Jerusalem where he spends much time helping Jews put on tefilin at the Kotel. He writes regularly for the blog mpath.com, is the author of several books and music tapes and highly educational videos. Find more of his writings at thereisone.com
Jewish Living Simply Explained
Nearly a decade in the making, this unique compendium summarizes dozens of core Chabad teachings that explain and inspire Jewish faith and observance. Drawn from the vast body of works of the Rebbes of Chabad, it will engage, educate, and inspire readers from all backgrounds. A concise bottom-line, plus an extensive list of follow up references round out this encyclopedic collection that can be read in minutes, yet inspire for a lifetime. By Rabbis Zalman Goldstein and Michoel Seligson, published by Jewish Learning Group.
New Center and Mivka
Chabad of Toledo, Ohio, recently opened its new Chabad Center. The 9,000-square-foot facility includes a synagogue, classrooms, kitchens, social hall, offices, Freindship Circle center and a beautiful new state-of-the-art mikva made possible with the help of Mikvah USA.
10 Sivan, 5712 (1952)
There is a statement in the Midrash to the effect that "If anyone tells you there is science among certain non-Jews, you may believe it; but if one tells you there is Torah among them, do not believe it."
This terse statement contains an indication of the radical difference between general science and the Jewish religion which, to be sure, is also a profound science, though "partly" in the realm of the unfathomable.
The cardinal difference is this: Science, in general, has two weak points: First, it is based on certain postulates which science cannot substantiate or prove satisfactorily and which, consequently, may be accepted, rejected, or substituted by contrary postulates. In other words, the entire structure of science rests at bottom, on unscientific principles, or, better, on premises which cannot be scientifically substantiated.
Second, science in substance, is a theory declaring that if there is Cause A, there must follow Effect B, and if Effect B is to be prevented, Cause A must first be eliminated (that is assuming the postulates in question to be true). In other words, science can never tell us, "Do this," or "Do not do that." It can only maintain that if we desire to attain B, we must first accomplish A; and if B is undesirable, then A should be avoided.
That science is subject to the above-mentioned two limitations is understandable, science being the product of the human intellect; for since man's abilities are limited, he cannot devise anything absolute. This explains weakness one. As for weakness number two, inasmuch as all men enjoy equal rights, science cannot a priori dictate any course of human conduct. The most it can do in this respect is to predict, on the basis of the experience and knowledge at its command, that a certain chain of reactions or effects is likely to follow from a given cause. Here men of science enjoy a certain advantage over the less experienced or initiated.
The said two weaknesses of science make the cardinal superiority of the Torah plainly evident. The very word "Torah" - meaning teaching, instruction - indicates it. For the ultimate purpose of the Torah is not to increase man's knowledge per se, but to instruct him to conduct his life to the fullest advantage of himself and the community at large. As a matter of course it provides all the knowledge necessary for the attainment of this ultimate purpose.
Inasmuch as the Torah is not the product of man, but is Divinely revealed at Sinai, a fact that is substantiated by undeniable multiple evidence which must be fully accepted even on scientific grounds - i.e., being given by G-d the Absolute, its foundations are likewise absolute truths, not mere suppositions. Furthermore, since G-d is the Creator of the universe and of mankind, He is not limited to the process of cause and effect, but stipulates a positive and absolute system of human conduct, of definite do's and definite don'ts.
That is why the Torah is called Toras Emes - the Law of Truth - for its teachings are absolute and its foundations are not postulates, but absolute truths, hence its consequences must also be absolute truths.
It is also called Toras Chaim - the Law of Life - to show that it is not just a science whose application is arbitrary, but a system of obligatory daily living.
This is why the dissemination of the Torah is so vital. For, in the final analysis, the important thing is not the amount of knowledge man acquires for its own sake. The important thing is to ensure that man acts consistently in the best interests of himself and society. Otherwise, he gropes in darkness, confused by conflicting ideas and theories around him and perplexed also by conflicting emotions and instincts within him, inherent in all human beings.
Torah is the answer to all these questions.
BARUCH is from the Hebrew, meaning "blessed." In the Prophets (Jeremiah 32:12), the friend, disciple, and scribe of the prophet Jeremiah was named Baruch.
BAT SHEVA means "daughter of an oath." Bat Sheva was one of the wives of King David (II Samuel 11:27). She was the mother of Solomon, renown as the wisest man in the world, the successor to the throne of King David and from whom Moshiach will descend.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are now in the month of Marcheshvan, the name of which has many interesting interpretations. One meaning of the word "mar" is "bitter," because this month, which has no holy days or festivals, lacks the sweetness that is derived from the holidays. Another translation of the word "mar" is "a drop [of water]," because Marcheshvan marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. According to linguists, "Cheshvan" is etymologically related to "chashrat mayim," meaning an abundance of water.
In Hebrew, however, "mar" also means "sir" or "master." The Midrash relates that King Solomon finished building the First Holy Temple during the month of Marcheshvan, but it was not inaugurated for 11 months, until the following Tishrei. G-d rewarded the month of Marcheshvan by promising that the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, which will be revealed with the coming of Moshiach, will descend from heaven and be dedicated during Marcheshvan. We therefore refer to this period with the respectful title of "master" or "sir" to honor an event that will signify our greatest joy.
Chasidut explains that the Hebrew language - the "holy tongue" - is unlike all other languages, in which the words that are used to describe things are arbitrary. In Hebrew, the word for an object is that object, the holy letters being the channel for its life-force and very existence. Aramaic, a related Semitic language that was the lingua franca of Jews in ancient times (and in which most of the Talmud is written), is described as the intermediary or bridge between the holy tongue and all other languages. In Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud, it is explained that Marcheshvan means "the movement of the lips." During the month of Tishrei, when a Jew is consumed with praying and intense study of the Torah, his mouth becomes a conduit for G-dliness. The impact of these holy vibrations of the lips are still felt in the month of Marcheshvan, and G-d willing, throughout the year to come.
Go out from your country, from your family, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1)
According to Rashi, the command implied "for your own benefit and to your own advantage." Yet despite the fact that Abraham knew this, he obeyed G-d simply because he had been so commanded, rather than out of any personal advantage it would bring him.
(Der Torah Kval)
A person must overcome his natural inclinations in order to draw closer to G-d. This is alluded to in "Go out of your country ("eretz," related to the word "ratzon" or will; "your family" ("molad'tcha," an allusion to the intellect which "gives birth" to the emotions); and "your father's house" (the word "av," "father," related to "taava," lust and appetite). Only then can one arrive at "the land that I will show you."
I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you (Gen. 12:3)
Why are those who bless Abraham referred to in the plural, and those who curse him in the singular? Because when people will see that those who bless the Jews are themselves blessed, and those who curse them are themselves cursed, there will naturally be a surfeit of well-wishers and very few cursers...
And Abram took Sarai his wife...and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the souls that they had made in Haran (Gen. 12:5)
If all of the nations joined together for the purpose of creating a mosquito, they could never succeed in inducing it with a soul. How, then, can the Torah refer to the souls that Abraham and Sarah "made" in Haran? Rather, the verse refers to the people they "brought under the wings of the Divine Presence. Abraham proselytized the men, and Sarah proselytized the women." Accordingly, they are credited as if they had "made" them."
During the times of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism) a law was passed to forcibly relocate Jews from rural villages to larger towns. This particularly harsh decree left many Jews destitute, without a source of livelihood, and a great deal of money was needed to alleviate their plight. Not only were many poor families without basic necessities, but officials had to be bribed to leave the Jews in peace. To this end, the Alter Rebbe began traveling extensively throughout the region asking for donations.
One such mission took the Alter Rebbe to the district of Vohlin, not far from the city of Toltshin, where Reb Boruch, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, resided. The Alter Rebbe decided to pay Reb Boruch a visit, and Reb Boruch was delighted by the honor.
"What brings you here?" Reb Boruch asked.
"Well," the Alter Rebbe replied, "I am raising funds to bribe government officials to leave the Jews alone. The pitiful plight of my brethren is too much to bear."
Reb Boruch was surprised. "But surely you could have averted the decree on the spiritual level!" he countered. "Why are you actually going around collecting money?"
The Alter Rebbe elucidated: "I am only following a precedent. When our Patriarch Jacob was in danger, no doubt he could have alleviated the harsh decree in a spiritual way, without having to placate his brother Esau with gifts. Yet we see that he declared, 'I am sending a present to my lord Esau...that he be appeased.'"
Reb Boruch remained unconvinced. The Alter Rebbe was a great tzadik; why did he have to lower himself to act within the natural order? "But why didn't you just teach them the meaning of 'Echad' ('One') according to my grandfather's teachings? The decree would then have been automatically nullified!"
"It was your grandfather's 'Echad' that caused this decree in the first place,' the Alter Rebbe replied. He then revealed the following:
After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, there was not one country willing to take them in. The reason for this (as with everything else that happens in the physical world) originated in the higher spheres. In heaven, the ministering angels representing the various nations were arguing among themselves. "We don't want the Jews to live in our land!" each angel cried. "The first thing they'll do is build synagogues and houses of study. They'll learn Torah and they'll pray. We don't want them to declare 'Hashem Echad - G-d is One!' "
The angels were afraid that this declaration of G-d's unity would nullify their very existence, much as darkness is dispelled in the presence of light. This spiritual reality was reflected down below, and the leaders of each nation refused to accept the Jews. There was only one angel who was not afraid, the ministering angel of Poland. In fact, he saw this as a golden opportunity to increase his own impure powers.
"They don't scare me," he declared. "I will take them in and it will be to my advantage. It is true that they'll build yeshivas and study Torah, and they will declare 'G-d is One.' But they will not have the proper intentions, and I will grow stronger."
And so it came to pass. The king of Poland agreed to accept a bribe-a pile of money as high as a mounted Cossack holding a spear upright.
Indeed, the Jews arrived in Poland in droves. They built synagogues and houses of study, established businesses, learned Torah and recited the "Shema" ("Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One"). And, as the ministering angel had predicted, they did not have the proper intentions. The angel was delighted that his plan was working. His own powers were increasing from day to day. Unfortunately for him, however, the Baal Shem Tov came along and taught the Jews a dimension of "Echad" that was entirely different.
"That's not fair!" the angel of Poland cried. "The deal is off-the bargain is null and void! I only agreed to accept them under the terms of the old 'Echad,' not the new one!"
Down on earth, the Jews would have to find another home. The noose was tightened around the throat of European Jewry, and many Jews were expelled from their villages.
"Now do you understand?" the Alter Rebbe concluded. "The new law is a direct result of your grandfather's 'Echad,' and that is why money is once again needed to avert the harsh decree..."
The future redemption will be analogous to the redemption from Egypt: just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt as a reward for their faith, so too by virtue of our faith Moshiach will redeem us. Indeed, the Midrash (Shocher Tov, ch. 40) states that Israel is worthy of redemption as a reward for the kivuy (hoping for, and awaiting, the redemption). By virtue of Israel's firm trust that "My salvation is near to come" (Isaiah 56:1), we shall merit that G-d shall redeem us with the complete and ultimate redemption, speedily, in our very own days.
(Living with Moshiach by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet)