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Rabbis' Blog

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.

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