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Rabbis' Blog

The Poor & Rich Bread

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For forty years G-d sustained millions of Jews in the desert with a most peculiar form of nutrition. Each morning (aside from Shabbat and Festivals) A layer of white seeds would descend from heaven of which the Israelites would collect an exact measurement for each member of their family. These seeds were called “Manna”. The manna had no resemblance to specific foods, however, the Talmud teaches that while eating the manna one would imagine any type of food and miraculously would taste that flavor in the manna presently being consumed.

The ability to taste any flavor imaginable is an indicator of great affluence and satisfaction. However, the inability to see the food one is tasting renders the culinary experience incomplete and the consumer remains hungry. It is for this reason that the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles was originally instituted: One should be able to see the food he or she is eating at Shabbat dinner to facilitate a wholesome and pleasurable eating experience in honor of Shabbat.

Why would G-d choose to sustain the Jewish people for forty years in a manner that was seemingly incomplete?

The Rebbe explains that the forty-year journey in the desert was a training period preparing the Jewish people for their arrival in the Holy Land and real life – and the manna in its unique format played a crucial role in this training. Both affluence and poverty are challenges from G-d. One who is blessed with riches is challenged to constantly remember that success is due to G-d’s blessing and he or she must therefore behave accordingly. One who is in a position of poverty is challenged to remember that in reality it is hidden good. (While the manna caused an element of hunger and poverty – it was truly heavenly bread!)

Everyone has their mission in accordance with their lot in life. The blessing of riches comes with the obligation to support the impoverished and the worthy community institutions financially, while the reality of poverty comes with the obligation to lend a hand in other ways. No need to confuse roles.

On a more personal level, everyone experiences “rich” and “poor” moments all the time. Sometimes success may be found in a random action, while a project that necessitated much time and energy will fail completely. We must remember that the results of our work is in the hands of G-d.

This is the message of the manna. Life will be rich and poor. Don’t let the riches go to your head and don’t lose hope from the poverty. G-d is our partner in everything. If we will do our part – He will do His part.

A trustworthy partner, indeed!

My Encounter with the Deer

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One early morning last week, on my way to Chabad for Shacharit services, I witnessed a scene for the first time in my thirty years in town. Three deer were crossing the street just ahead of me.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that one must learn a lesson in the service of G-d from every experience and encounter in life. This includes gleaning life lessons from animals as well. Every element of creation plays an integral role in shaping our perspective of life and its purpose.

In the case of the deer, I did not need to look very far for inspiration. The sages in Pirkei Avot teach that one must be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to serve G-d. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law applies this teaching to the way a Jew must perceive the idea of rising early in the morning, regardless of the challenges involved.

Each one of the above mentioned character traits expressed by the respective animals may have negative connotations as well. The obvious intention of our sages is that one must filter these concepts and to apply only the positive ideas within every creation.

The boldness of a leopard is not to give license to be insulting and ungracious, rather the boldness must be focused inward. Despite the fact that one may feel intimidated by scoffers to weaken his or her commitment to the observance of a mitzvah – the leopard inspires us to bravely disregard such feelings and remain committed to the truth.

To be swift as a deer is not to disregard the importance of thoroughness and caution, rather the intent is that when inspired to do the right thing – allow the thought to be swiftly translated into action. If you wake up in the mood of studying an extra page of Torah – do it right away. Inspired to wrap tefilin? Don’t push it off. When the bank account shows some extra income this month? Don’t procrastinate with the tzedaka!

There is a cute saying in Israel. You got the urge to work? Wait a few minutes for it to pass.

The deer teaches us the importance of being swift in our Judaism. While study, understanding and meditation is important, it cannot slow down the Jewish action. There is much to be accomplished and people that need to be helped. Each and every one of us is allocated a certain amount of time to do it all – and failure is not an option.

Remember – you snooze you lose.

For The Purpose of Renewal

Beis Hamikdosh 

Traditionally, the Shabbat preceding the fast of Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon, because the Haftorah read in the synagogue begins with the words “Chazon Yeshayahu” – the vision of Isaiah. The Chasidic masters reveal a deeper dimension to the name “Shabbat of Vision”: On this day every Jew is shown a vision of the third Holy Temple that will be rebuilt in the Messianic era. While our physical eyes are not privy to this magnificent vision – our souls are infused with a special energy as a result of this spiritual vision.

As the Jewish world mourns the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile we are still currently experiencing, the question is often raised: what for? What could possibly be the value in the absence of the Temple and such a severe dispersion of our people? Is there no better way to rehabilitate us and change our behavior for the better?

The Rebbe approaches this difficult subject through analyzing the phenomenon of sleep. Would not humanity be far more productive if humans did not have the debilitating condition of fatigue? Could humans not have been created to be awake, aware and alert 24/7 for 120 years?

Although sleep may be a period of no revealed productivity, clearly it offers an opportunity for renewal. If we were to be awake all the time we would never experience being refreshed.

The purpose of creation is to allow every human being to become a full partner with the Creator in creation. Just as Hashem created a brand new world – so too His “partners” need to engage in constant renewal. True greatness is achieved only after a recession of sorts.

In addition to the destruction of the Temple being a consequence of our collective negative behavior – it is also the catalyst for the construction of a greater and grander edifice for G-d. The dispersion in exile motivated the greatest developments of Jewish academia and development.

The soul is granted a glimpse of the Third Temple on this Shabbat to invigorate the Jew to remember that the long journey of exile leads to the greatest achievement in Jewish history. Until then, we need to engage in constant renewal in every aspect of Judaism.

This week I witnessed a renewal of sorts right here at the Chabad House. Over 30 children are being treated to a top notch camp experience immersed in the beautiful lessons of the Torah at Camp Gan Israel. The counselors from out of town and the local volunteers are doing a fabulous job and the children are having a blast of a time!

Thank you Rabbi Levi and Shainy for producing such a beautiful program for the El Paso Jewish community. Every summer the camp fresh and renewed with more and more children.

Click here to view the online photo album of Camp Gan Israel. 

Keep Moving!

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If you have visited Israel, you most probably have been “greeted” by a native or two with an abrupt “zuz!” – which roughly translates as “move!” People in Israel tend to be in motion. Is this unique to sabras or is this a global Jewish trait?

This week on Shabbat we will complete the fourth book of the Torah – Bamidbar – by reading the last two parshas Matot and Masei. The final parsha opens with a discussion of the forty-year sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness prior to their entry to the Promised Land.

Providing a detailed accounting of the forty-two locations they camped along the way, Moses begins with the statement “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel.” If the subject matter is a list of encampments, why would they be titled journeys? Equally puzzling is that every destination is preceded with the refrain “And they traveled and they camped.” It would seem obvious that each destination was preceded by a trip. Why is there a need for the Torah to emphasize the journeys?

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the 42 journeys that constituted the national itinerary of the Jewish nation following their redemption from Egypt are reflected in the personal life of every Jew for eternity. Why are they called journeys? Life is compared to climbing a steep mountain. Failure to continuously ascend inevitably results in a descent.

By referring to every destination in the desert as a journey, the Torah teaches the secret of Jewish success: Keep moving. No matter the magnitude of your past accomplishments, pausing in the spiritual journey is not an option. One must be ready to continue marching forward to achieve bigger and better.

At times the journey of better development may cause temporary discomfort and inconvenience. For many months the parking arrangements at the El Paso International Airport have been pathetically inadequate due to construction. Now, the new beautiful car rental facility is a fitting way to welcome visitors to our wonderful city. It is now common to hear of grand new projects intended to enhance our city’s quality of life. Although the road to the realization of these projects may be fraught with temporary inconvenience, this is a journey we must be willing to constantly travel for a better future.

The Rebbe would teach, directly and by way of example, that Jewish success is achieved through constant movement and ascent. Every Torah lesson should be followed by another and every mitzvah observed will inevitably lead to more and more.

Zuz! Move! It’s not an Israeli thing – it’s a Jewish thing.

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