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Celebrating the Big Picture

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Yosef was estranged from his brothers for several reasons but nothing agitated them more than the fact that his dreams foretold his ultimate rise to power and that they would all bow to him. The tensions came to a boiling point when the brothers attempted to kill him and ultimately sold him into slavery.

 

Thus began a painful saga in the history of Yaakov’s family. Yaakov mourned inconsolably, the brothers were wracked with guilt and Yosef was subjected to a life of servitude, imprisonment and rejection.

 

Fascinatingly, Yosef himself did not process these terrible events as a punishment or the result of his brothers’ revenge. He understood that this was divinely orchestrated so that he be put in the right place at the right time to do something extraordinary.

This becomes increasingly clear as we follow Yosef during this painful 22 year separation. During his tenure as a slave to Potiphar, a high ranking Egyptian minister, he was promoted to manager of the estate. Yosef continuously attributed his success to G-d, that his pagan Egyptian master was compelled to recognize this truth.

After being falsely accused of immorality and unjustly sentenced to prison, Yosef continued to provide divine inspiration to all. Ultimately he was instated as the viceroy of Egypt, assuming control over the entire country and by extension all civilization.

The greatest expression of Yosef’s firm belief and pristine understanding that his tragic circumstances were part of a greater plan can be found in the first message he tells his brothers during their emotional reunion.

“Do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you... You did not send me here, but G-d, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.”

Today, (Thursday, December 7) the 19th of Kislev, marks 219 years since the liberation of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad (known as the Alter Rebbe) from Czarist prison. His opponents attempted to destroy the newly established Chabad movement by arranging his arrest on false charges of high treason. Truth prevailed and the Rebbe was miraculously released 53 days later on the 19th of Kislev.

The Alter Rebbe understood that his arrest was the result of a heavenly debate whether Chassidus should be revealed on a large scale. The circumstances of his release were such that the truth of Chassidus was acknowledged by the highest echelons of the gentile government, thus allowing for its dissemination on an unprecedented level. It was all part of the divine plan.

Chassidus is the innermost dimension of Torah which allows us to tap into the strength of our inner selves. By learning it each day, we open our hearts and minds to discover the pathway to redemption for ourselves and the entire world. Lechaim!

Click here to learn more about 19 Kislev.

 

Jewish Double Identity

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Having survived a potentially fatal encounter with Lavan, Yaakov traveled closer to to his homeland anticipating the long awaited reunion with his parents. His brother Eisav did not allow for such a smooth transition and marched towards him with an army of 400 men to exact his long overdue revenge for the blessings he felt were rightfully his.

Distressed by the news, Yaakov prepared for the inevitable encounter by appeasing his angry brother with a large gift, developing a battle plan and offering an impassioned prayer to G-d. The night before the expected showdown, after transporting his family across the Yabok River, he was assaulted by an angel and an epic wrestling match ensued.

Although the struggle played out in a physical reality, it was really a clash of G-dly consciousness and the worship of self. Yaakov represented complete devotion to G-d and the angel was the spiritual representation of Eisav and egotistic human nature.

Yaakov was victorious that night and the angel was obliged to bless his combatant in some capacity. He revealed that in the near future G-d would change his name from Yaakov, which intimates that he received his father's blessings through trickery, to Yisrael, “Because you have struggled with men and angels and prevailed.”

The name change indeed occurred two years later but, curiously, the Torah continues to use both names interchangeably. This is in sharp contrast to Avraham whose previous name “Avram” is never mentioned again after he was renamed by G-d. Why was the Yaakov/Yisrael change not permanent?

The name Yaakov is synonymous with challenge and adversity. This describes the reality of a Jew engaged in the world which is devoid of divine clarity. Revealing the true goodness embedded therein demands creative strategy and nerves of steel.  

The name Yisrael describes a spiritually pristine scenario. The aftermath of the victory of good over evil and clarity over confusion is one of continued spiritual growth.

A Jew is always navigating between these two worlds. When faced with challenges of faith, struggling with observing a mitzvah or simply bogged down with life - be Yaakov. Find creative ways to outsmart these powerful forces.

Then there are times of inspirational clarity: Shabbat, High Holy Days, lighting the Chanukah candles, the bris of a child or standing under the chupah. When experiencing these moments, be Yisrael and strive to broaden your spiritual horizons.

But even when you strike the high notes, never lose focus on maintaining your spiritual equilibrium when striking the low notes. After acquiring the name “Yisrael” do not lose your ability of being a competent “Yaakov”.

Being challenged is as Jewish as being inspired and our forefather bequeathed us with a double identity to master them both.

 

The Key to Succes

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For over sixty years, Yaakov lived a sheltered life of study and devotion.  It seemed predictable that he would never cut a deal in his life. His brother Eisav was the man of the world - ambitious and successful.

Everything changed when Rivkah learned of Eisav’s intention to kill Yaakov in revenge for receiving the blessings he felt were rightfully his. She advised Yaakov to flee to her brother Lavan in a faraway land until his brother’s rage subsided. Armed with his father Yitzchak’s blessing and instruction to marry, he set out on a new journey in life.

Arriving at his destination, he started working as a shepherd. Seven years he toiled to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage only to be tricked into marrying Leah. Seven more years of labor was the price for marrying Rachel. He did so in perfect faith without uttering a complaint.

After fourteen years, Lavan offered to pay him like a mentch. Yaakov set forth terms of a deal that ensured his integrity would be apparent above all else, and Lavan happily accepted them. Any business professional reviewing the deal would bemoan Yaakov’s naiveté.

Surprisingly, Yaakov did very well. In a short time, he amassed a fortune that was the envy of the entire region. The lifelong Yeshiva boy had proven to be a perceptive businessman, capable of outsmarting the wily Lavan each time he tried to undercut his success. How did he do it?

Shepherding sheep was Yaakov’s occupation and his payment was in sheep as well. He bartered the sheep and acquired much livestock, cattle and slaves. Understanding the inner dimension of sheep will allow us to discover Yaakov’s secret to success.

Sheep are utterly obedient and follow their shepherd unquestioningly.

Yaakov’s transparent obedience to G-d gave him the inner strength and ability to navigate the big world successfully. When life is about fulfilling a divine mission, the optics become irrelevant. Total immersion in the spiritual cocoon of Torah study and the fast-paced life on Wall Street are not a contradiction - when permeated with the awareness that they are all part of G-d’s masterplan.

The name of this week’s parsha is “Vayeitzei” – to go out. We are constantly challenged to leave our comfort zone and to conquer new frontiers.

While it is necessary to have a healthy dosage of chutzpa and ambition, absolute obedience is the foundation of a Jew’s success. The Code of Jewish law provides the divine guidelines to every area of life, and following it scrupulously sets us on a path to ultimate success.

Obedience does not come natural to us humans. We need to train ourselves one mitzvah at a time. Success is discovered every step of the way.

Filling the World with Goodness

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This week I have the pleasure of participating in the 30th International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim. Thousands of us are descending on Brooklyn from all over the world for a few days of inspiration and celebration.

Each year, the weekend long event is an opportunity for a spiritual recharge, but this year there is an added dimension. Sunday will be Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the first day of the Jewish month of Kislev, and it is the 40th anniversary of a very special occasion.

On the holiday of Shemini Atzeret 1977, the Rebbe suffered a massive heart attack during the Hakafot services in full view of thousands of Chassidim. Upon the Rebbe’s request his medical care and recovery was attended to by a group of dedicated specialists in his office at Lubavitch Headquarters.

Five weeks later, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the Rebbe returned to his home for the evening, marking the return to his regular routine. This crucial milestone in the Rebbe's recovery has been celebrated in Chabad ever since.

What is the connection to the International Conference? Here is a lesson the Rebbe taught during that terrible ordeal.

As one of the doctors was using a syringe and needle to take a blood sample on the day following the heart attack, the Rebbe pointed out that it was not the needle that drew out the blood but the vacuum in the syringe.

“A vacuum is not worthless. On the contrary, a vacuum has the power to draw with increased strength and is therefore a vessel for all matters of good and holiness.”

This profound lesson can be applied on many levels, however the Rebbe articulated it on a global scale. While many Jewish leaders observed the religiously desolate Jewish landscape with dismay, the Rebbe saw an opportunity to fill the spiritual emptiness with ultimate goodness.

Inspiring thousands to dedicate their lives to bringing the beauty of our heritage to every single Jew, the Rebbe emphasized that no place is too far and no community is too small. The less Judaism you may find there is just an indicator of how much can be accomplished. The extremely diverse and remote locations many conference attendees represent, bears testimony to this reality.

The Rebbe's recovery in 1977 was the beginning of a new era of his impact on the world. The empire of goodness which can be found everywhere is a direct result of the Rebbe's increased efforts after that fateful time.

Join me in celebrating this special milestone. Toast a special Lechaim during Shabbat and think of ways you can fill spiritual voids you may encounter. I’ll be doing that with friends in Brooklyn, and I invite you to virtually participate in the climax of the festivities on Sunday evening. Click Here.

When we do our part to fill the world with true goodness we will merit to an era when goodness will permeate all of reality with the coming of Moshiach.

Taking the Initiative

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It was time to find a suitable match for Yitzchok. The miracle baby – born to Avraham and Sarah at the advanced ages of 100 and 90 respectively – the first Jew circumcised at eight days and a consecrated “sacrifice” to G-d. Avraham knew by way of prophecy that the lucky girl was a relative somewhere in Charan – his former homeland.

He dispatched Eliezer, his devoted servant, to the foreign land, granting him power of attorney to negotiate with the family.

Arriving at his destination at dusk, he positioned his caravan of ten camels near the well at the outskirts of town and offered a prayer to G-d requesting success in his mission in the merit of Avraham.

“Here I stand by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water. Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Please tilt your pitcher so that I may drink,’ and she replies, ‘Drink, and I shall give water to your camels as well,’ will be the one You have designated for Your servant Yitzchak.”

The test was straightforward. Avraham was the paragon of kindness and generosity and trained his family to be the same. Only a girl gifted with a natural sense of benevolence and goodness would be worthy of joining the family and mothering the future of the Abrahamic legacy.

Now, consider this important nuance that is often overlooked. Eliezer will only request a drink for himself. If she graciously offers him a drink alone as he requested and does not do the same for the rest of his entourage, she will have failed.

Avraham’s kindness was not limited to those who entered his tent. He actively searched out ways to help others. As we learned in last week’s parsha, three days after his circumcision he begged three reluctant travelers to avail themselves to his hospitality.

Eliezer therefore searched for the maiden who would take the initiative.

The rest is history. Even before completing his prayer, he noticed Rivkah, the beautiful daughter of Avraham’s nephew Besuel, approaching the well and she passed the test with flying colors.

We are all obligated to influence change for the good and many wonder how they can do so. Rivkah teaches us that being ready to help when called upon is not enough. We need to search out opportunities to help another.

Interest yourself in the needs of your friends and neighbors and seek ways to alleviate their financial or emotional pressures. Start up new friendships and nurture old ones without being prompted. Share your knowledge of Torah and the joy of a mitzvah to those who know less and see how gratifying it is.

When we all take the initiative in the proper direction, we will prepare the world for an era when peace, harmony, kindness and graciousness will abound.

To Give Even When You Lose

After close to a century of devotion, Avraham was finally commanded to observe the mitzvah of Bris Milah (circumcision) thereby entering into an eternal covenant with G-d. His willingness to go through with the deed at the advanced age of ninety-nine despite his enormous spiritual accomplishments until then, earned him a special revelation of the Shechina - the Divine Presence, three days later.

While sitting at the entrance to his tent seeking passersby to tend to, G-d revealed himself to Avraham in a manner he had never experienced before. During this immensely uplifting and spiritually gratifying experience he noticed three travelers passing by and ran toward them in greeting, begging them to avail themselves to his hospitality.

Think about this. Avraham paused a rendezvous with G-d A-lmighty Himself to invite three men with the appearance of heathens into his home!

A careful examination of Avraham’s self description sheds light on this peculiar behavior.

Later on that day, he was notified that the cities of Sodom and Gemorra would be destroyed on account of the moral depravity of their inhabitants. Avraham argued with G-d to spare them, with a lengthy negotiation seeking to find some redeeming elements in the cities.

Avraham prefaced his argument by expressing his sense of humility by saying “I am merely dust and ashes”. The Talmud teaches that Avraham’s humility expressed in the word “ashes” was later embodied in the mitzvah of the Red Heifer.

During the glorious era of the Holy Temple, only one who was ritually pure was allowed to enter the hallowed building. There are many laws regarding the state ritual purity necessary for entering the Temple and we will focus on one of them.

Contact with a corpse caused one to become ritually impure. After immersing in a mikvah (ritual bath) one needed to be sprinkled with spring water mixed with ashes of the Red Heifer - a perfectly red cow that was slaughtered and burned in very specific manner. This process of preparing the Red Heifer was observed only nine times in history.

Interestingly, all of the Kohanim involved in preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer were rendered ritually impure - and thus barred from entering the Holy Temple for a day. They were expected to forgo their own spiritual elevation and experiences to enable others to achieve ritual purification and the ability to enter the Holy Temple.

The ability to be so selfless as to help others while personally losing out is our heritage from Avraham. His kindness did not stem from a feeling of superiority and the ability to share, rather from an utter humility asserting that everyone else deserved more than him. It was only natural for him to pause such a divine revelation to lend a helping hand even to the dregs of society.

Avraham teaches us that the Jewish ethic of giving is not only when it is convenient but specifically when it demands much sacrifice on multiple levels.

The Zigzag Course Upwards

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The name designated by Torah to any given object, person or idea is not merely a form of reference but an expression of its true essence. It follows that the name of the weekly parsha articulates the all-encompassing and common theme of every story and lesson contained therein.

This week we learn about the first time G-d communicated a direct command to Avraham. Although he had a glorious past of courageously sacrificing his life for G-d, it was all a preparation to receiving the divine instruction of “Lech Lecha – Go forth into the world and spread the knowledge of G-d to all of civilization!” By traveling upon G-d’s instruction, Avraham reached the Holy Land and, at the crossroads of civilization, was able to accomplish his divine mission.

The words Lech Lecha, designated as the name of the entire parsha, represent constant spiritual elevation and accomplishment.

Most of the stories recorded in the parsha fit the theme of Lech Lecha. Upon reaching the Holy Land he received special messages and blessings from G-d. He set up a hospitality center with the sole purpose of spreading the awareness of G-d and was wildly successful. He miraculously vanquished four trained enemy armies thereby rescuing entire cities from ruthless oppression and entered a covenant with G-d twice, faithfully observing the mitzvah of circumcision at the old age of ninety-nine.

The first major incident of the parsha is glaringly different. During his first year in Canaan, there was a famine in the land, which many pagans were able to interpret as the vengeance of their deities on the newly arrived monotheist. To make matters worse, Avraham had no alternative but to travel to Egypt, the most morally depraved region at the time, exemplified by the fact that his wife Sarah was seized by the Pharoah and was rescued only by divine intervention.

How are these details part of the spiritual elevation of Lech Lecha?

When shooting a rubber band, you quickly learn that the further back you stretch it the further it will travel forward when released. Regression for the sake of progress.

Avraham and Sarah’s descent to Egypt and the problems that followed culminated in their ultimate triumph. Pharaoh begged them for mercy, lavished them with many gifts and riches and sent them on their way with much honor and respect equipped with the tools they needed to fulfill their divine mission going forward.

This became the prototype of all descents and regressions Jews experienced throughout history. Each time we get pulled back, we spring forward with even greater velocity.

On a personal level, although we pray every day not to experience adversity and challenges are no cause for celebration, we must be aware that all regression is temporary and certainly no reason to become despondent. There is always a way to transform every pitfall into a steppingstone to greater heights.

Saving the World

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A millennium after creation, humanity had descended into utter chaos. With no law and order and natural human selfishness unrestrained, civilization was rampant with corruption, thievery and murder. G-d was unwelcome in His own world.

To refine the earth so that it be able to once again reflect divinity, G-d caused a devastating flood to wash away all living organisms. Only Noach, his family and a representation of all species of animal and bird life miraculously survived in the legendary Ark that Noach was instructed to build. 

Noach dutifully followed G-d's instructions and he toiled on the project for 120 years. In addition to constructing the massive boat, he needed to stock provisions to sustain his family and all the animals for the 365 days they would be ensconced in the floating box.

You would think that after his mission was complete and the rain began to fall Noach would kick up his feet and enjoy the year-long cruise. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas animals in the wild fend for themselves, Noach was the very first zookeeper and he was responsible for the animals sailing with him. He tirelessly fed them around the clock and it was only due to his great devotion and attention that they all survived and were able to continue their species in the new world.

Despite the fact that his family assisted him with the feedings, the non-stop work proved to be a heavy burden for the 600-year old Noach and he soon became ill. To make matters worse, he was once delayed in feeding the lion and the ferocious cat bit Noach, causing him to groan and cough up blood for the rest of the voyage.

Nevertheless, Noach did not call in sick and he relentlessly forged ahead with his routine of non-stop care for all on the Ark.

This detail of the story is an inspirational lesson for all time. We all have a unique role in nourishing the world with G-dliness. Sharing Torah messages, encouraging others to do another mitzvah and perpetrating acts of goodness and kindness to the best of our abilities.

At times we encounter hardships in fulfilling our mission and we could start to wonder if it is all worth it.

Noach teaches us that even when saving the world, do not expect it to be easy and comfortable. If you encounter challenges on the way, don't complain. Keep moving forward.

This lesson is communicated to us through Noach whose name means rest and relaxation. We pray that as we continue to execute our respective missions to the world, G-d should grant us all our needs in the best possible way.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Levi Greenberg

Rosh Hashanah Teaches the Value of Making Good Choices

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Jewish festivals have a way of confusing people because they occur on different dates each year. Jewish tradition has maintained an independent calendar for over 3,000 years that is unique in its format and sophistication.

At sundown on Wednesday, Jews in El Paso and throughout the world will start celebrating the beginning of the new year of the Jewish calendar. We observe the holiday by spending extra time at the synagogue engaged in prayer and introspection.

A traditional shofar (a ram’s horn) is blown in a specific series of sounds. Of course there is an emphasis on celebrating with festive meals and various symbolic foods eaten in anticipation of a sweet new year.

Interestingly enough, unlike most other Jewish festivals, Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate an event uniquely relevant to Jewish history.

Passover commemorates the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt. Shavuot was the revelation at Mount Sinai. Sukkot reminds us how G-d protected us during our 40-year journey through the desert. Yom Kippur was the day of atonement for the sin of the golden calf.

Rosh Hashana commemorates creation. More specifically, it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve – the first human beings – as recorded in the Bible. This is an event that is relevant and meaningful to all humanity.

Like Adam and Eve, who were formed and created by G-d Himself. Every human being, of all races and creeds, is created in G-d's image, with a unique purpose that only he or she can achieve. The shared goal of humanity is to transform this world into a place of goodness and kindness, thereby revealing the inherent divinity within it.

Adam and Eve were challenged on their first day of life and failed miserably. Remembering their story allows us to be mindful of the fact that we are granted free choice and doing the right thing is not a given. Perfecting our world depends on the choices we each make every day.

Consider waking up in the morning and recognizing the miracle of being granted once again the gift of life. In gratitude, choose to make this world even better than it was yesterday. A new day brings new opportunities for good.

These choices need not be monumental in breadth or scope. A single act of charity, a cheerful greeting to a stranger and an encouraging word can have far reaching effects. And if you doubt the validity of this assertion, think of the nuclear world we live in today.

Less than a century ago it was believed that quantity determines quality and that in order to effect major change one needs access to huge amounts of resources. Nuclear science revealed that even a single atom contains astronomic amounts of energy – as long as its fullest potential is utilized.

Affix a charity box at your home or office and give a few coins each day for those in need. Add an extra dollar to your employees’ paychecks and encourage them to get involved in charitable acts. Treat others with respect. Show more consideration for your family, friends and neighbors.

One person at a time. One good deed at a time. One good choice at a time.

Together it will add up to the perfect world we all wish for ourselves and for future generations.

This article was published in The El Paso Times on Monday, September 19, 2017 and is available online:

http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/2017/09/17/rosh-hashanah-teaches-value-good-choices-rabbi-greenberg-column/670891001/ 

United In Blessing

 

On the last Shabbat of the Jewish month, we sanctify the following month with a special prayer during synagogue services called “Kiddush Hachodesh”. In the presence of the Torah scroll, the upcoming day of Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month) is announced and we proclaim that the new month be one of life, peace, joy, deliverance and consolation.

On the last Shabbat of the year, we refrain from this procedure for various reasons.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that on the final Shabbat of the year, G-d A-lmighty Himself blesses the new month of Tishrei, thereby giving us mortals the capacity and strength to bless the following eleven months of the year. How is this Heavenly Blessing communicated to us?

The Torah portion that we read each Shabbat is G-d’s way of communicating to us the relevant message for that particular week. This Shabbat we will read the double portion of Nitavim and Vayeilech. The main themes of these Parshas educate us as to how we will have the power to bless the coming months.

Nitzavim opens with Moshe preparing the Jewish people to strengthen their covenant with G-d. “You are all standing this day before the L-rd, your G-d. The leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel. Your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers.”

Every Jew is present. The absence of one affects the entire community.

Throughout the Torah, the introduction to a communication between Moshe to the Jewish people is a generic “And Moshe spoke to the children of Israel.” The opening and closing statements of parshat Vayeilech however, make a rare reference to the fact that Moshe is speaking to the entire nation of Israel.

The two mitzvoth recorded in the parsha - writing a Torah scroll and gathering the nation every seven years at the Temple for “Hakhel” - also emphasize the idea of unity. Every Jew is represented in the letters of the Torah scroll, and the once-in-seven-year gathering was the only event every Jewish man, woman and child was obligated to attend.

The message is clear. Unity is the vessel to receive blessing and the tool through which we can bless. As we wrap up the old year and look forward to a new one, let us be mindful to include everyone. Encourage a fellow Jew to hear the Shofar this Rosh Hashanah and participate in a festive meal. Full synagogues are insufficient as long as there is even one Jew within our orbit not doing Rosh Hashanah.

We know what to do and we will get the job done.

It's Not About Enhancing Life

 

The Jewish calendar date of this Shabbat is the 18th of Elul. The Jewish numerals for 18 are the letters “yud” and “chet” spell the word “Chai” which means life. So the calendar date reads as saying “The Life of Elul.”

It is the birthday of two legendary Jewish leaders.

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, was born in the year 1698. His life long mission was to reveal the inner dimension of Torah and the Jewish people. He captivated the minds of the greatest scholars of his time, and invigorated the masses by ensuring the simple folk that their service of G-d was precious and meaningful. (Learn more about the Baal Shem Tov here.)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad movement, was born in the year 1745. As a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov’s primary disciple he revealed a profoundly straightforward intellectual approach to the exhilarating teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Whereas in the past the study of Kabbalah was limited to a select few, this new Chabad approach made the mystical teachings of the Torah available to anyone that was willing to learn. (Learn more about the Alter Rebbe here.)

Since then the teachings of Chassidus have been an integral part of Torah scholarship and an integral aspect of preserving the global Jewish community for generations.

There are many ways to appreciate the contribution of these great sages but I will focus on an idea that is best expressed through the idea of birth.

Before birth, the fetus is a complete body including hair and nails. During pregnancy, the life of this fetus is considered an extension of the mother. The independent life of this child begins when the soul is breathed into its nostrils upon birth. At that moment the soul and body are not two entities working together, they are united together as one indivisible entity.

For many, Torah study and Mitzvah observance is a way to enhance life, making it more meaningful. The insightful teachings of Chassidus allow us to realize that Torah and Mitzvoth are life itself. Everything we experience is a mere detail in fulfilling our mission of serving G-d with joy.

As Elul is the month we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, this realization infuses fresh life into our preparations and sets the stage for a new year of focusing on the epicenter of life – Torah and Mitzvoth.

Team Work

 

During the weekend, Hurricane Harvey ravaged through Southeast Texas leaving in its wake destruction and crisis. With so many people displaced, homes damaged and a total disruption of normal life, there is an outpouring of support from around the world. Channeling this overwhelming support effectively is crucial.

By Sunday morning, the amazing team of over a dozen Chabad emissary couples serving the Houston kicked into high gear, coordinating search and rescue efforts, kosher food supplies and volunteer groups to help the thousands desperately in need of help. Throughout the week, many of their colleagues in Texas and beyond assisted in arranging shipments of kosher food, other supplies and many teams of volunteers are converging on Houston from around Texas.

The key to their success is the fascinating teamwork on display. Everyone has a role that he or she is executing phenomenally.

In this week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei we learn of the mitzvah of paying workers on time. If the job is complete before evening, payment must be rendered before the next morning, unless both parties have agreed upon other terms and conditions.

The Talmud teaches that G-d follows His own rules. The Torah instructs us to observe mitzvoth today and we will receive the ultimate reward of our labor in the era of redemption. This seems to contradict the law against delaying payment. Is it acceptable for the millions of Jews who lived throughout the generations to wait so long for their payment?

G-d created a world devoid of divine revelation and empowered us to perfect it and reveal the divinity within. This mission is vast and complex spanning the globe and generations. Like a mammoth assembly line, every Jew fills a crucial role in bringing our world to the perfection of redemption. Until then, the job is not complete.

We are all a team and every team member is important. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, reflect on how well you are fulfilling your role in our collective mission. Perhaps you know some “team members” that need help in understanding their role in our mission.

Learn more Torah daily and share the knowledge with others. Commit yourself to greater mitzvah observance and encourage your friends to follow your lead. Invite them to a Torah class, to services or to Shabbat Dinner. The mission can be accomplished only once we are all on board.

Making The Right Choices

 

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, one of the great Chassdic masters, was known as the consummate advocate for the Jewish people. He once made the following observation.

“G-d A-lmighty: You created a world with all the delicacies and amenities of life on full display in the streets, and the Torah, Jewish morality and Mitzvah observance is accessible only through intense study of the holy books. Is it a wonder that Your children are distracted and choose to indulge in worldly matters? Had You placed the delicacies of life in the books and displayed Torah and Mitzvot in the streets, they would surely make the right choices always.

This week’s parsha, Re’eh, opens with the fundamental tenet of Jewish life: Free Choice. We are free to choose the way we live. Lightening does not strike the sinner in the act and gold does not fall from heaven to the righteous. It is all set up in a way that allows for distraction from living a life of commitment to G-d.

Yet, G-d provides us the tools to make the proper choices. Studying Torah and following its instructions enables us to navigate the stormy seas of reality and to remain anchored in truth and morality. It is our obligation to educate our children so that they have the necessary information and training to make the right choices in life.

We just concluded Camp Gan Israel. For two weeks, over forty children were treated to an amazing program of refreshing summer fun. The daily schedule was filled with creative activities, crafts, field trips and many surprises. Throughout it all they learned and reviewed many things about Torah, Mitzvoth, Jewish history and practices. The cheers and songs instilled them with a greater sense of Jewish pride and belonging.

Many thanks to the wonderful counselors who made the trip from Brooklyn to spend these two weeks with our El Paso children: Chayale, Rochel, Devorale and Chaya. Your devotion to the campers and enthusiasm for Judaism made camp very special. Thank you to all of our local volunteers for all of your time and effort. We could not have done it without you.

Thank you to all of our friends and supporters for making it possible to have first-class Jewish educational opportunities for the children of our community. Together we will help them make the right choices.

Unconditional Sacrifice

 

This past Monday, the 15th of Av, we celebrated the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar. Many have not heard of this holiday and it is largely under the radar, but the Talmud states that there is no holiday as joyous as the 15th of Av. There are several reasons for this celebration and I will focus on one of them.

At the beginning of the Second Temple era, a time of communal poverty, there was a shortage of firewood to keep the fire on the Holy Altar burning. No fire means no sacrifices, which is a major crisis in a functioning Holy Temple.

Several wealthy families stepped up and donated huge supplies of firewood to keep the Temple operational. As an expression of gratitude to these generous families, the anniversary of their donation was commemorated each year by feeding the fire of the Altar with firewood donated by that family on that day. That day was a joyous occasion for that family.

The 15th of Av was also a day that a family had donated firewood, but there was a unique twist in their donation. The wood used on the Altar was top quality. It needed to be very dry, hence, the window of opportunity for chopping that wood ended at the conclusion of the summer season – the 15th of Av. Wood chopped from the forest after that date was considered of inferior quality.

Here is the catch. Whereas the families who donated earlier in the summer were able to replenish their supply with high quality firewood, the family that donated on the 15th of Av had no such recourse. The selflessness and sacrifice of their donation was greater by al means.

We celebrate the awesome capacity to give of ourselves unconditionally. To care for the needs of another, even if we may lose out in the end.

This Shabbat, the 20th of Av, is the Yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father. As the chief Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and the sole remaining member of the Schneerson dynasty in a rabbinic position during the 1930s, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was the standard-bearer of Judaism against the enormous pressures of the evil Stalinist government.

In 1939, in response to his vigorous work on behalf of Judaism, he was arrested and exiled to a remote area of Kazakhstan. Beyond the physical torment of living in such a primitive place with limited food and medicine, the spiritual anguish of separation from his community and his library was excruciating. His courageous wife, Rebbetzin Chanah, brought him a few Torah books, and with the home-made ink she managed to produce from wild berries, he annotated the margins of those books with his innovative teachings. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away in exile due to his suffering, and those marginal notes serve as his only Torah legacy for generations to come.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sacrificed everything dear to him to ensure that the Jews of the USSR continue to live connected to their heritage of Torah and Mitzvos. May we be inspired by his example to do our utmost in strengthening Judaism wherever we may be – unconditionally.

From Switch board to Ipod: Keeping It Fresh

 

On my recent trip to New York, I was fortunate to visit a small office in Chabad Headquarters known as WLCC (World Learning Communications Center).

The Rebbe’s primary platform for teaching and inspiring world Jewry was through the traditional “Farbrengen” - a Chassidic gathering. In the early 1970s, a few young, tech-savvy rabbinical students developed a telephone system enabling Chassidim from around the world to tune into the Rebbe’s weekday Farbrengens live. The pilot project of three phone lines blossomed into WLCC; an elaborate system connecting dozens of locations and thousands of individuals to the events transpiring at Chabad HQ.

In the famous passage of Shema Yisrael, recorded in this week’s parsha Va’etchanan and recited twice daily, Moses instructs the Israelites: “These words which I command you TODAY shall be upon your hearts.” Although we received the Torah at Sinai long ago and the mitzvoth have been in effect for over 3,000 years, we are to view them as brand new – received today.

This is one of the most powerful elements of the Rebbe’s teachings. Every message is permeated with the awareness that each passage in the Torah is timeless, the smallest details of Jewish law are consequential and even the simplest stories are profoundly relevant. The Rebbe transmitted this refreshing approach to Judaism at the Farbrengens, thus initiating a revolution in Jewish life, by invigorating a generation of survivors and educating future generations of Jewish leaders.

In addition to the content of the message providing such spiritual energy, the Rebbe’s unique style of delivery truly energized the listeners. The clarity, passion and urgency inspired thousands to action. This is why WLCC was so important. Reading a transcript cannot compare to hearing it directly from the source.

When my parents moved to El Paso to establish a Chabad presence, their first purchase was a phone line by WLCC. (In the bottom right corner of the attached photo, you will notice the switch marked E.PSO). This was their lifeline to the refreshing inspiration of the Rebbe’s teachings and instructions.

Today, I receive this very same inspiration from the recordings of those Farbrengens. In addition to learning Torah from printed books, the Rebbe’s voice and delivery brings it all together and keeps it fresh. The playlist of these Farbrengens on my Ipod is my spiritual lifeline today, as the WLCC line was for my parents, years ago.

Although the Rebbe’s public talks were in Yiddish, JEM is publishing many of the videos with subtitles in various languages. I invite you to partake in this valuable treasure. Join us at Chabad after Havdalah (half hour after Shabbat ends) for the weekly segment of the Living Torah series. View the videos online at TheRebbe.org, YouTube.com/JewishMedia or FB.com/JewishMedia.

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