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by Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann obm
Summer! A time for vacations, relaxation, exploration. And of course, swimming. Nothing beats the heat like a good swim. It's great exercise, too.
Sometimes we just want to sit in the pool. Sometimes we play games - marco polo, some kind of ball game, whatever. Sometimes we swim laps. Swimming pool activities are endless, fun, and almost make us glad it's ninety degrees or more.
Of course, all this water activity only works for you if you know how to swim. It's a big mitzva (commandment), to teach someone to swim - according to one opinion in the Talmud, it's as much a parental obligation as teaching a child how to earn a living.
For those who take swimming lessons, often part of those lessons includes learning how to dive. The diving lessons start at the edge of the pool and progress to the low board. Almost everyone learns how to dive off the low diving board.
But the high dive - ah! that's something different. Even very experienced swimmers aren't always comfortable climbing the high dive. Even if one's an expert off the low dive - it's a long way down. Just looking gives you an elevator stomach.
Jumping off the high dive is bad enough, but at least you're going feet first. Diving? And doing somersaults in the air? Only for the very brave!
Of course, there are those adventurous, talented, athletic types that go from the wading pool to the high dive without missing a beat.
Becoming involved in Judaism is like learning to swim. We take a Torah class - get our feet wet. Commit to a mitzva - maybe lighting Shabbat candles every week, putting on tefilin once a week, giving extra tzedeka (charity) - we learn to put our head under water. And so on.
Sometimes we master a particular "stroke" really fast. Sometimes we're very comfortable with our "skill set" - our level of observance, how many mitzvot we do, how carefully we keep them, how much Torah we learn, how intensely we study. We might look with envy or admiration at someone who's doing backflips off the high dive of Jewish life.
But, we say to ourselves, it's not for me. Too high. Too scary. Too different.
The truth is, we can, and sometimes do, look at each stage of our growth as Jews as trying to do a swan off the high dive - or, more technically, a backward flip one and a half somersault twist straight knife into the water.
The "Judaism is a high dive" attitude can intimidate us at any level - moving forward can seem beyond our reach. But it isn't. Because the high dive is just a longer short dive. That is, a dive off a low board is just as scary the first time. It is practice - and a good teacher - that makes the difference.
That's how the good divers do it: practice, of course, which makes them comfortable - the more we do a mitzva, the more comfortable and easy it is to do it again.
We have to realize it's not necessary to master the "high dive" the first time we try to swim. It takes time and practice, teacher and training, to swim at all. And mastering any skill (learning Torah and doing mitzvot is also as skill) is not only a challenge, but fun.
But we also have to realize that in fact each mitzva we do, each bit of Torah we learn, is itself a jump off the high dive - a very successful and graceful dive.
In this week's Torah portion, Vaetchanan, in the second verse of the Shema, we are commanded, "And you should love G-d, your L-rd, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might."
When it comes to loving someone, either you do or you don't. You cannot be commanded to love another. How then can we fulfill this mitzva (commandment)?
G-d wants to be understood, known. The more we understand about G-d the more we love Him. Being that G-d is infinite there is always more to know.
To be loved, is to be understood.
Most women know this naturally, as they yearn to be understood. When they are understood they feel loved.
To understand, you must listen. To listen is to remove one's personal understanding and feelings on the subject and hear it from the other one's perspective totally. To listen is not just about hearing, it's about picking up on nuances such as facial expressions, body language and hints. To experience the other.
Again, most women naturally know how to listen, most men do not, hence the complaint "he doesn't listen." Good listening takes effort and can be exhausting.
In this week's portion, G-d is saying, "Try to understand Me, from My perspective. Hints are found all over the Torah. Pick up on the hints, listen."
G-d is asking us to understand, Why did He create this world? how do we fit in the scheme of things? He wants us understand Him, to know Him.
A hint to this is found in the first verse of the "Shema."
"Listen Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is one."
In the Torah, this verse has two oversized letters ๒and ใ. Together they make up the word ๒ใ - Da, to know or understand.
Shema Yisrael, If you will listen. Da, You will understand. That Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One - In other words, what G-d is all about. V'ahavta, And then you will love G-d.
Knowing G-d's purpose will motivate you and animate you, as you will find deep meaning in fulfilling G-d's will. Not from a feeling of obligation but rather from love.
Listen, understand, love.
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.
From Here to There
by Shira Levine
A belief in something greater than myself started at a young age. When I was a little girl, I remember looking out my window towards a beautiful Kansas summer sunset. My dad came over and he pointed to the orange light rays peeking through a purplish, bluish cloud. He said, "Look Samantha, that's G-d's work!" I will always remember that special moment, because it was a time of true, unfiltered belief. It continued to stick with me throughout my life.
My parents instilled strong Jewish values within me. Growing up we always had Passover Sedars (led by my grandfather Pops), lit the Chanuka candles, and attended Hebrew School (whether we wanted to or not). We hosted Rosh Hashana meals at my house and my brothers and I would always steal the honey sticks.
In high school, my interest in Judaism continued when I decided to join BBYO. I dabbled a bit in NCSY when I took my first trip to Israel at age 16. On that month-long trip to Israel I had my first taste of Shabbat. I found it to be beautiful at the time, but never actually considered taking it on.
My true Jewish growth really started to develop in college, at the University of Kansas. As a freshman, majoring in design, I joined a sorority. I was living it up. But I knew that I needed something more meaningful in my life, because every morning after a night of partying I always felt empty. I felt that same emptiness when I decided to solely focus on my design projects in school and forgo the parties.
In my junior year I decided to quit the sorority. My new apartment-mate, Emily, convinced me to go to Chabad on Friday (mostly because I had a car). At first I begrudgingly agreed. But when she left for her semester in Spain, I continued to go to Chabad. Every single week.
Rabbi Zalman and Nechama Tiechtel created such an amazing atmosphere in the Chabad House. My closest, most genuine friends today are all from Chabad at KU. We became family. With Rabbi and Nechama there was so much laughter and simcha (joy). And they made me feel so special for every mitzva that I did.
After college, my parents helped shlep me to Chicago. It was my next stop in life. I was looking for a larger Jewish community. Moving to a brand-new city was a very lonely experience at first. Little by little I started to get the hang of city life. And then, eight months into my first graphic design job, my boss let me go. I was devastated. Shattered.
For the next five months, job searching became my new career. Knowing I had extra time, I decided to spend Shabbat with the Staal family in West Rogers Park. After spending four Shabbats in a row, I knew I needed to add Shabbat to my Jewish repertoire. I also incorporated eating only kosher into my life and dressing modestly. By taking on all of these things in a calculated, gradual manner, something inside me felt completely fulfilled.
Things were looking up. I reached out to my old co-worker, and her partner happened to work at Leo Burnett, an internationally renowned advertising company. He agreed to look through my portfolio and help me develop my website.
Before I knew it, I started my new job at Arc Worldwide, a division of Leo Burnett. During this time, I continued my Jewish growth. I mustered up the courage to tell my boss that I needed to leave early in the winter for Shabbat. Rabbi Dovid and Devorah Leah Kotlarsky in Lakeview, Chicago, helped me make my kitchen kosher.
I had some extra vacation days that I wanted to use to study somewhere. By divine providence, a few of my college friends had been visiting in Chicago and so we decided to visit Chaya Schurder, who works for Chabad on Campus. When I told her my desire to go learn, she said, "For such a short time, just go to Machon L'Yahadus!"
This past October I journeyed to Machon L'Yahadus for ten days. It was incredible. I felt like a little sponge! My soul absolutely needed the learning, without a doubt. The last day of the trip, I visited the Rebbe's Ohel. It was such a surprisingly calm experience for me, both peaceful and purposeful. I asked for basic clarity within my life, and that in the right time I could come back and learn again. It was so sad to leave and I was missing it the second I left. When would I ever have this opportunity again? We'll see, I thought. But I have to work. When I returned, my creative director and senior art director pulled me into a quick catch-up meeting.
My creative director said, "Well, this is going to be some hard news to digest. And we didn't want to bother you on your vacation. But our team is moving to Cincinnati where Proctor and Gamble's headquarters are." My heart stopped. What? But how is this possible, I thought? She said, "This is really hard for all of us. But it's a time to pause and ask yourself, what do YOU really want to do?"
I knew what I really wanted to do. I had just been at the Rebbe's Ohel. I had just come back from a magical Machon L'Yahadus experience. This was a miracle.
The head creative of the agency encouraged me, saying my yeshiva experience would make me a more interesting and diverse person. My parents were supportive in my decision once I had the fine details figured out, and I showed them that this was something I truly wanted. I sold all the furniture from my Chicago apartment. Four months later, I made the move. When I walked in the door, I was greeted with open arms. Literally.
Returning to Machon L'Yahadus has been one of the best decisions of my life. From the staff, headed by Rabbi Shloma Majeski, the classes, the individualized study, our Shabbatons, trips into the city, late night farbrengens, and dance parties in the dorm - it's been an experience that cannot be matched. I've really been living what I learn.
I have no regrets about my decision to venture to Machon. Machon L'Yahadus has truly brought back my child-like, pure faith in G-d from that moment with my Dad, looking outside the window into the sunset in an even stronger way than ever before.
For more information about Machon L'Yahadus Women's Yeshiva visit womensyeshiva.org or call 718-552-2422.
More Than Mazal Tov
For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121. The Psalm states our dependence on G-d for our safety and wellbeing, and His commitment to guard us at all times. For a color print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mikvah.org, or visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shirlamaalot.jpg
Teens from across the FSU came together for ten days EnerJew Seminars this summer. Jewish educational programming, leadership workshops and lots of fun and relaxation took place at the seaside venues. There were two seminars this summer for girls and two for boys with a total of more than 500 participants in attendance.
Aleph d'Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5710/June 15, 1950
This is in reply to your question regarding the significance of the custom during the marriage ceremony that the bride makes seven circuits around the groom under the Chuppah.
The answer to this question, it seems to me, has to cover the following sub-questions: 1) The significance of the circuit, 2) its repetition seven times, 3) the bride circling around the groom and not vice versa, 4) the bride then joining the groom, standing by his side within the circle.
I trust that the following may give you a satisfactory answer.
It is stated in the Zohar (Part III, 7:2) that marriage, which is a union of two distinct persons, is in reality a union of two halves of the same soul. Each one, when born, possesses but half (*) of that soul which becomes one and complete only in wedlock, through Chuppah and Kiddushin [sanctification].
This is why marriage is one of the greatest soul-stirring experiences of the bride and groom, for their respective souls have found at last the other half. Something of this joy is experienced, by way of illustration, at the re-union of two close relatives or beloved friends who had been separated for decades.
To a certain extent, therefore, the marriage marks the beginning of a complete and full life, while the pre-marital life of either the bride of groom may be considered in the nature of a preparatory period.
The union of the two parts of the same soul is not a union of two identical halves which make one whole. But they complement each other, each of them enriching the other with powers and qualities which hitherto were not possessed by him or her. For the "masculine" and "feminine" parts of the souls have basic differences, reflecting, broadly speaking, the character differences of the sexes. One such difference is what our Sage called "the nature of the male to conquer," i.e., the propensity of the male to conquer new provinces (in business, profession, science, etc.) outside his home. This quality is generally not found in the female. On the other hand, the woman is called in our sacred literature the "Foundation of the House," for within the house her personality and innermost qualities are best expressed and asserted (Psalms 45:14).
It has been mentioned earlier that marriage, in a sense, marks the beginning of a full life. The wedding ceremony reflects this by an allusion to the beginning of all life. The Blessings of Betrothal (Birchoth Hanesuin) also begin with a reference to the creation of the first man, the first woman, and their wedding.
Ever since the Creation of the world, human life has been based on the seven-day cycle. G-d created the world in six days and hallowed the seventh as a day of rest. Man was then commanded to work for six days of the week, but to dedicate the seventh as a Sabbath unto G-d. When a Jew is about to set up a home and begin a full life, it is fitting that this basic principle of a happy life should be symbolized during the wedding ceremony. Hence the "Seven Days of Feasting," and the "Seven Blessings" (Sheva Berachoth). This brings us also to the seven circuits of the bride around the groom.
Bearing the above in mind, as well as the earlier introductory remarks concerning the basic character differences between the male and female, the ceremony of the seven circuits which the bride makes around the groom suggest the following explanation:
The groom, who takes the initiative (**) in bringing the union to fruition, is initially the center of the new Jewish home. He is the first to take his place under the Chuppah. When the bride is led to the Chuppah, she proceeds to make a circle around the groom. This symbolizes the delineation (in space) of their own world within the outer world, with her husband-to-be as its center. She continues to make circuits one after the other seven times, symbolizing that she, the "Foundation of the House," founds an edifice that would be complete on the first day of each and every week to come as on the second, third, etc., to the end of all times and seasons, a lasting and "eternal edifice" (with the infinity of the "cycle"). Her own contribution to this sacred union is also implied in the fact that she makes the circuits around the groom.
Having completed the seven circuits, she stand besides her husband-to-be in the center of the circle, for after the preparations for the building of their home, both of them, the husband and the wife, form its center. From here on, throughout the entire ceremony both the bride and groom form the center of the holy ceremony, like king and queen surrounded by a suite of honor. Their lives become united into One full and happy life, based on the One Torah given by the One G-d.
With all good wishes and kindest personal regards,
*) This does not mean, of course, that it is half a soul in every respect, but in the sense that in some respects, viz. the setting up of a home, an individual is but a "half," and his soul is likewise a "half."
**) This is expressed, e.g. by the saying of our Sages that "it is the custom of the man to seek a wife." During the marriage ceremony this is symbolized by the fact that the groom declares "Harei at, etc," (Be thou betrothed unto me, etc.) while the bride remains silent.
YERACHMIEL means "G-d will have mercy." Yerachmiel was a son of King Yehoiakim, King of Judah.
YISKA is from an expression in Hebrew denoting "dignity." Yiska was another name for Sara (Genesis 11:29). She was named Yiska because she "looked into the future" - sakhta - with Divine prophesy and all "looked at" - sokhin - her beauty. Jessica is the Anglicized version of Yiska.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat, the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, is called Shabbat Nachamu. It is thus called after this week's Haftora, which begins with the words, "Nachamu, nachamu ami, - Take comfort, take comfort, My people."
Shabbat is the continuation and completion of the past week. Thus, even though during this week we commemorated the saddest event in Jewish history by fasting and mourning the loss of the Beit Hamikdash - our Holy Temple - the whole purpose of this week is to renew our hope and to be comforted that G-d's promise will be fulfilled and our Holy Temple will be rebuilt. Our sadness of Tisha B'Av should be replaced by the comfort of Shabbat Nachamu.
Our sadness is further alleviated by the special day of Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of Av (this year Friday, August 16). This is considered a joyous day for numerous reasons.
One reason concerns the generation of Jews that was forced to wander in the desert for 40 years before entering the Land of Israel, due to their acceptance of the spies' false report about the Holy Land. Every year, on Tisha B'Av, members of this generation would die. On the fifteenth of Av, in the fortieth year of their wandering, this decree was lifted.
Also, during the era of the Roman Empire, the Romans attacked the Jews who resided in the city of Beitar and killed multitudes of men, women, and children. On Tu B'Av, the Romans finally allowed those Jews remaining in Beitar to give the murdered Jews a proper burial.
In the time of the Holy Temple, Tu B'Av was celebrated as a full festival. In our times, it is celebrated by making gatherings and increasing in Torah study, especially at night, as from this point on, the nights become longer.
Let us ask G-d to send Moshiach, so that the next Tisha B'Av will be a day of rejoicing in our Holy Temple, in an era when the lessons that can be derived from everything in the world will be openly revealed and acted upon.
At that time, saying (Deut. 3:23)
Moses beseeched G-d that in later generations - "at that time" - when the Jews will find themselves in the depths of exile, unable to even muster up the proper intentions before praying and only capable of uttering the words, their prayers should be acceptable before G-d.
(The Amshinover Rebbe)
From there you will seek the L-rd your G-d and will find Him (Deut. 4:29)
It is precisely when you seek the L-rd your G-d "from there" - from the depths of your heart and with a sense of complete nullification before the Creator, that "you shall find" - the sudden revelation of the greatest G-dly light.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Take good care of your souls (Deut. 4:15)
One must not abuse or neglect the physical body, for "a small defect in the body creates a large defect in the soul."
(The Mezeritcher Magid)
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up (Deut. 6:7)
Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch offered a Chasidic explanation: "When you sit in your house" refers to the time when the soul is contained in the physical body; "when you lie down, and when you rise up" refers to the period after the resurrection of the dead.
For a long time the Soviet government had been carefully scrutinizing the actions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Chief Rabbi of the city of Yeketerinaslav (and the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). A network of spies had infiltrated his synagogue and was observing his every step. Indeed, a thick dossier of his "crimes" had already been gathered.
The truth is that it wasn't all that difficult to substantiate evidence of the Rav's defiance. Nonetheless, by dint of his courage and ingenuity, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had so far succeeded in avoiding their traps.
Take, for example, the time the government decided to conduct a census in which all Soviet citizens were asked if they believed in G-d. Because of the great danger involved in responding truthfully, many Jews, even observant ones, had planned on answering in the negative.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, however, would not hear of such a thing, and ran from one synagogue to the next begging people not to deny the G-d of their fathers. As a result of his campaign he was summoned to appear before the authorities.
"What is there to find fault with?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered innocently. "When I learned that some Jews were intending to lie, I merely did my job as a Soviet citizen and urged them to tell the truth."
The day came when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was invited to appear in court on charges of conducting Jewish activities in his home. As this was strictly against the law, if he were found guilty, the punishment was potentially severe.
The Rav's apprehension only grew when he saw the two main witnesses for the prosecution. The first was the director of the housing unit in which he lived, a young Jew who was a sworn Communist. Appointed by the authorities to keep track of the residents' comings and goings, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak knew that he was the housing director's primary focus. The other witness was his next-door neighbor, a woman whose husband was the regional head of the Communist Party in charge of transportation.
In truth, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had much to fear from these two witnesses. And recent events had given him even more cause for worry.
Not long ago a young Jewish couple, both high-ranking government employees, had suddenly appeared on his doorstep in the middle of the night and asked that he marry them "according to the laws of Moses and Israel." It was a very dangerous proposition: Not only did the Rav not know them personally, but in order to conduct a Jewish ceremony under a chupa, ten Jewish men would have to be found.
Within a short time, nine Jews were hastily assembled in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's home. But where to locate a tenth? With no other option the Rav had taken the bold step of asking the director of the housing project to participate. "Me?!" the man had jumped as if bitten by a snake. "Yes, you," Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had answered in earnest. Surprisingly, the director had agreed, and the clandestine wedding was held. But who knew if this would now be counted against him?
The second witness had also recently been involved in an activity that could possibly implicate him. One day a secret messenger had come to the Rav's house and informed him that the following day, the woman's husband, the high-ranking Communist, would be away on business from morning till night. The real reason for his absence, however, was to allow the Rav to perform a brit mila on their newborn son.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak did not know if he was walking into a trap. But the next day, the tiny infant was entered into the Covenant of Abraham.
That evening, the baby's father returned home and made a big commotion about the "terrible" deed that was done without his knowledge. Thus, it was difficult to predict how the neighbor woman would now testify in court.
The tension was great as the trial opened. The director of the housing project was the first to testify: "As you all know," he began, "I am well aware of everyone who enters and exits Rabbi Schneerson's apartment. But the only unusual visitors I've noticed are two old relatives who drop by from time to time."
Now it was the turn of the second witness to speak. "As a neighbor of Rabbi Schneerson," the woman testified, "I always expected that as a spiritual leader, he would try to establish contact with members of his faith. I therefore find it surprising that I have never noticed any illegal activities in all the time he has lived next door to me."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson thus emerged unscathed from this particular incident. But the evidence against him continued to mount until in 1940, he was declared an "enemy of the people" and exiled to Central Asia. After much suffering he returned his holy soul to its Maker, on the 20th of Av of 5704 (1944). May his saintly memory protect us all.
"And I entreated G-d at that time, saying...let me go over, I pray You, that I may see the good land" (Deut. 3:23-25) The Midrash relates that Moses beseeched G-d with 515 prayers (the numerical equivalent of the word "va'etchanan" - "and I entreated") to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. Even after G-d explicitly told him, "Do not continue to speak to Me any more of this matter," Moses persisted. We learn from this that we must never give up imploring G-d to bring Moshiach, at which time we will all entire the Land of Israel!
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Devarim, 1991)