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Surely you've seen fireflies. If you've ever captured one, you know how delicate and fragile they are.
The firefly phenomenon is called "bioluminescence." It means "life lighting" or "light from life." Fireflies have a gene that activates a bioluminescent light. The light source is called lucifern.
Recently, scientists have discovered that lucifern can be used to trigger cancer cells to kill themselves, or at least to track how effective a treatment really is. Photodynamic therapy, as it's called, operates thus: skin cancer cells are treated with a photosensitizer, then exposed to light, such as a laser. The light, striking the photosenitizers, triggers production of active oxygen that can destroy diseased cells.
For illness deeper in the body, the "firefly technique" works, because the luciferase gene is implanted in the cancer cells. There's no need for an outside light source - the luciferase gene causes the light to be generated within the tumor cell itself, and the disease in a sense burns itself out.
The technique is still in development and needs testing, but it's a new approach to treatment.
There's a lesson we can learn from this scientific advance.
(G-d forbid anyone should get cancer, and may anyone suffering from that or any disease have an immediate recovery.)
But, we can use the metaphor of cancer to describe a condition that needs to be healed on the spiritual level. For cancer is an unregulated, uncontrolled growth. Thus, it metaphorically relates to desires and appetites that, the more we indulge in them, the more they consume us.
Often, once we've triggered the appetite, whether for food or a "rush" of excitement, we can't stop. Even something beneficial in proper degrees, such as a "runner's high," can become harmful, an obsession.
The cure, we learn from photodynamic therapy, is light. And light is an analogy for Torah. The way to control, to kill the unregulated, uncontrolled growth of our appetites - physical, emotional, even intellectual - is to study Torah.
However, the "firefly technique" teaches us more, something critical for the success of our spiritual photodynamic therapy. For when the illness is on the surface, then the study of the revealed parts of Torah suffices. A spiritual tumor that has not penetrated deep within the body can be treated with a study of the "revealed" parts of Torah.
But when the spiritual tumor has penetrated, then we need a photodynamic therapy that can also penetrate deep within us, indeed, that can be absorbed into the "diseased" cells and destroy them from within.
Chasidic philosophy is characterized as the inner teachings of the Torah. Chasidism penetrates deep in our spiritual beings, revealing the inner light, the inner meaning in the revealed elements of Torah. Thus, in order to cure the deeper spiritual "illness," to generate the light from within the spiritual "tumor" itself (so it destroys itself), we need to increase our study of Chasidic philosophy - the spiritual "firefly technique."
Everything in this week's Torah portion, Korach, seems to be centered around the concept of priesthood.
The portion begins with the challenge of Korach against Aaron the High Priest. It concludes with the gifts the Jewish people are obligated to give to the kohanim (priests).
Priesthood, it appears, is an important element in our service of G-d, with Korach symbolizing those negative forces that seek to impede our spiritual progress. Kohanim are distinguished by their total devotion to G-d; indeed, the Torah tells us that "G-d is their portion." Therefore, when a Jew gives the kohanim the special offerings enumerated in the Torah he is, in effect, making that offering to G-d.
These gifts express the willingness of every Jew to dedicate himself to the service of the Creator, according to the principle, "All the best parts belong to G-d."
A Jew must reserve for G-d only the very best of whatever he possesses - even if this goes against his nature. Although without the Holy Temple (may it be immediately rebuilt) we cannot fulfill these mitzvot in the literal sense, the principle of utilizing only our very best for holy purposes applies in every place and in all circumstances.
The best portion of our material and spiritual wealth (time and energy) are to be reserved for the "kohen" that exists within - the holy Jewish soul - to G-d and to His Torah. "Best," as it applies to the hours of the day, is synonymous with "first."
As soon as the Jew opens his eyes in the morning he says "Modeh Ani," thanking G-d for restoring his soul. Then, before he begins his workday, he climbs the rungs of prayer and studies the Torah's Divine wisdom. Laying down this firm foundation is what guarantees the Jew success in his more mundane daily pursuits.
Korach's argument challenged this concept. "Is a tallit (four-cornered garment) that is entirely blue required to have tzitzit?" he and his followers demanded sarcastically of Moses. "Does a house full of holy books still need a mezuza on the door post?"
If every Jew is holy by virtue of his G-dly soul, Korach claimed, the Divine Presence already rests among the Jewish people - and it is therefore unnecessary to dedicate the "best parts" for holy purposes.
Moses' answer, however, was clear and unequivocable. A Jew must not content himself with the innate holiness with which he is born, but must always strive to attain higher and higher levels of spirituality.
Yes, the all-blue tallit does require tzitzit, and the room full of holy books still needs the extra measure of holiness of the mezuza.
May we speedily merit the fulfillment of "all the best parts belong to G-d," with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 4
The Process of Painting a Life
by Sarah Horwitz
Art is often described as a form of self-expression, yet art can also transcend the self.
If you had pressed me on the subject ten years ago, I would have simply said I was painting about that which I could not name.
Then, one summer evening, I landed in a class on a book called Tanya - the teachings of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi. My friend, Esther (a pseudonym) suggested that I go. Years ago, we had met as teens. We were art students and shared predilections about many things. We also had some similar quirks.
Years ago on a chilly, gray New York day, we sprang from her apartment in baggy attire and running shoes and raced through Central Park in the pouring rain. We ran, laughing all the way to the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd.
Drenched and sweaty, we entered the museum and examined the art in tandem. Insignificant puddles formed at our feet while fashionably suited and hatted matrons eyed us warily. Our focus was pinpointed on becoming a part of the next generation in art. The unspoken irony of our soggy presence in the museum was quite comical to us.
That was then.
Soon Esther started to become Torah observant. The long skirts were a different look and actually quite becoming, but there were many other changes, too. I thought it was just a passing phase like the cottage cheese with pineapple rings we ate almost daily for about a year.
A number of years and a few milestones in each of our lives later, we were both living in the same city. Esther talked me into coming to a farbrengen, a gathering, of women at her house. A lot was going on over there that I didn't fully understand.
I took it in stride that Esther was keeping Shabbat, kosher, covering her hair - it had nothing to do with me - until she pointed out that I seemed to have an intellectual curiosity about almost everything except Judaism. She challenged me to explore Torah... maybe just a little.
Next, Esther called several weeks in a row on Friday afternoons to say something like: "Six-oh-two! Light and say the blessing!" Then - click - she'd hang up.
She hit a nerve at the right place and at just the right moment. I got a little bit curious, which brings us back to the summer evening Tanya class.
That night, Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun, Chabad Rabbi of the Gold Coast, Downtown and Lincoln Park in Chicago, was speaking about making a space within ourselves, emptying our ego and becoming a vessel in order to become a conduit for something greater.
That is it! The rabbi is putting words to the secret about art, yet clearly, it isn't a secret at all. In that moment, I knew I had found truth, or, rather, it had found me. This is how my adventure of teshuva - returning to Torah - began. My search for G-d had been going on in my painting for years even though I hadn't realized it.
The intuitive process of emptying my ego had resulted in expressing awe - not of nature itself, but of the force beyond nature in my paintings: Wild flames blaze in the midst of a calm sea; past and present moments coexist; water is everywhere and one reality opens up to reveal a place higher in the heavens.
Yes, I had been making space within myself rather than expressing myself. Now I can say it: From a starting point of hard-earned inspiration, I listen for G-d as I work.
Inhaling observations from many sources is a part of my creative process. A spectacular cloud formation; a myriad of muted colors in the woods; a memory of unusual trees from a dream or reflections in a raindrop might inform my art.
The counterpoint, or exhale, is an exercise in knowing what to let go of in order to reach a higher place. Life often presents situations where giving in is a difficult and wise choice. Likewise, there are times when letting go of a favorite part of a painting can yield a surprisingly powerful result.
To share an example, in the painting titled "Yom Echad" or "First Day " (shown at left), three lush gladiolas were hovering in front of the cloud explosion: Deep orange blossoms stretched up toward the left; Rich butter-yellow flowers curved upward in the center; Vivid crimson blooms extended toward the right.
Visitors to my studio at that time thought the painting was completed. The juxtaposition of deep space, explosion and flowers created a visual poetry about the awesomeness, fragility and beauty of creation.
Still, after the initial "wow," I longed for the painting to be intriguing in a deeper, subtler manner. Reluctantly at first, I concealed the beauty of the flowers within the clouds.
In the completed work, the flowers pulse from within the painting though only unrecognizable hints of them are visible. This is an example of how tzniut, the Torah value of modesty and humility, can inform and enlighten all aspects of life in an expression of refinement.
Art is a journey with many choices to make moment to moment. Carefully selected parameters are the wings for traveling with intent. In life, it is the same. Torah shows us the way to climb toward our ultimate purpose and it helps to remember to inhale and exhale deeply.
Sarah Horwitz is a painter and writer currently living in Irvine, California. She taught Painting, Drawing and Studio Research Seminars at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago for ten years and has exhibited her work. You can contact her at HolyArt613@gmail.com. Reprinted with permission from www.shimona.org
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From a letter dated 5730 (1970)
... I trust it is unnecessary to emphasize to you at length that the Jewish way of life, together with its customs, etc., is not only very significant in its generalities, but is also significant in all its details and in the very order and arrangement of matters.
In light of this, it is obvious how truly important are peace and harmony between a husband and wife, since the mitzvah (commandment)of making peace between a husband and wife is counted among the mitzvos whose fruits a Jew enjoys in this world, while the "principal" remains for the World to Come.
These are mentioned right at the beginning of the Siddur [prayerbook] - together with the morning blessings, which are recited even before starting the actual morning prayers.
With this in mind, it will prove somewhat easier to understand that even if one party were to be completely in the right (or almost completely in the right), while the other party were to be completely in the wrong (or almost completely in the wrong), it would still be incumbent upon both parties to do everything in their power to restore peace and harmony.
Certainly this duty becomes paramount in the case of a husband and wife who hold prominent positions in the community, as a result of which other Jews look up to them for example and guidance.
Clearly, an outsider cannot know, nor can he be told, what compelling reasons there might be for such a situation. The outsider can only observe and draw his own conclusions, since he will not inquire about, nor is it possible to inform him of, all the factors and extenuating circumstances, should there be any. Add to this the fact that it concerns a couple, both of whom are active in the sphere of Jewish education.
Moreover, and of course this is also most essential, G-d has blessed you with children, good children, who require the attention, love and upbringing of both parents. These children are surely entitled to receive what is due them from their parents.
Beyond a shadow of doubt, each of you must do everything possible not to further strain your relationship, but on the contrary, the two of you must endeavor to strengthen your relationship, restoring it to its full unity and harmony.
As to the situation itself, namely, who is right and who is wrong, I cannot, of course, go into this, nor is it necessary in light of what has been said above. For the important thing, as already stated, is to strengthen your family ties, this being the overriding consideration.
However, it would be well if the two of you could find a mutual friend before whom both of you could unburden yourselves in a frank exchange of grievances.
It is possible that an outsider, who at the same time is a friend, might see more objectively and find the best way to straighten things out, and [moreover, do so] as soon as possible, so that once again peace and harmony may reign in your home.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
20 Menachem Av, 5726 (1976)
... Moreover (and this is of greatest import, and it also has an effect on earning a livelihood), it is imperative that peace reign between you and your wife.
For this to be achieved, it is mandatory that each of you gives a little and does not insist on always emerging victorious [viz., winning every argument,] etc.
Having achieved this, you will see the fulfillment of "When husband and wife merit, the Divine Presence resides in their midst."
May you convey to me glad tidings [with regard to the above].
2 Shevat, 5715 (1965)
A blessing from G-d must and can be achieved through conduct in a manner of peace, the vessel that holds and sustains G-d's blessing. Therefore you must make a supreme effort to achieve Shalom Bayis.
Even if you think that you are in the right, and even when this is verily so, you should go about achieving your goals in a pleasant and peaceful manner. Indeed, this is the obligation of a Jew - particularly a chassid - to act with forbearance.
When you will conduct yourself in this manner, you will meet with success in all your endeavors.
From Eternal Joy, compiled and adapted by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
What is kabala?
Kabala is from the word meaning "reception." Kabala is the Jewish mystical teachings received by Moses from G-d, passed on from teacher to student throughout the ages. The basic book of kabalistic literature is the Zohar (which means "brightness"), written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. A famous 16th century Kabalist was Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (known as the Arizal), whose teachings were written down by his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital. Chabad Chasidic philosophy is based in large part on the teachings of the Arizal.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion is Korach. According to the simple reading of the portion, we see Korach as a wicked person, one who not only fought with Moses but also encouraged others to quarrel with him, as well. How, then, is it possible that we call something as holy as a Torah portion the name of a wicked person?
Chasidic philosophy offers a beautiful explanation of who Korach truly was and what we can learn from him. The name Korach is appropriate for the portion because, according to a deeper level of Torah Korach represents the striving of the Jew to reach the highest spiritual peaks. Thus, the lesson we learn from Korach is not only a negative one, the rejection of his approach of strife, but also a positive concept, the importance of seeking spiritual peaks.
The appreciation of Korach's positive qualities, however, has to be coupled with the awareness of his negative qualities. This can be connected with a concept of general significance.
G-d desires that a Jew serve Him on his own initiative, with his own power. For this reason, the soul descends into this material world where there is a possibility to err. The intent, however, is that a Jew should make a positive choice. These qualities are reflected in the narrative of Korach.
Korach was a clever person who sought to reach the level of High Priest. Since he had to achieve this level in this world, he had two choices how to express this holy drive. In practice, he did not choose the proper approach. However, the lesson, to use one's potentials as prescribed by the Torah, remains.
The portion of Korach teaches us a practical and applicable lesson; to quote the Previous Rebbe, "Just as a person must know his faults so that he can correct them, he must be aware of his positive qualities so that he can use them in the fullest degree possible." A Jew must realize that he is not controlled by exile and can strive to reach the highest spiritual potentials, his "holy of holies." Similarly, one has to appreciate the advantage of our generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of redemption.
And Korach took... and they rose up before Moses (Num. 16:1-2)
A person who is broad-minded will not respond to taunts, as he is mature enough to disregard them. By contrast, a person who is narrow-minded is unable to tolerate anything that goes against his will, and becomes immediately angered like a young child. In Chasidic terms, unity is derived from "broadness of the intellect"; controversy results from "smallness of intellect."
(Maamarei Admor HaZakein)
That the earth open its mouth and swallow them up...and they go down alive into the pit (Num. 16:30)
A person can only avail himself of repentance while he yet lives. Korach and his followers, swallowed up by the earth alive because of their sins, were granted the opportunity to repent and atone for their transgressions.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And they shall keep the charge of the Tent of Meeting (Num. 18:4)
From this verse we learn of the mitzva of guarding the Tabernacle, and subsequently, the Holy Temple. This mitzva, given to the Levites and kohanim, was purely ceremonial, to arouse honor and respect for the holy site. Even after the destruction, the sanctity of the site where the Holy Temple stood remains in full force. Why then do we not continue to guard it even during the exile? Until Moshiach comes, speedily in our day, the Jewish people is in constant danger from the nations of the world. This applies not only when non-Jews have sovereignty over the land of Israel, but also when the land is in Jewish hands - and even when peace treaties have been signed with our enemies. As "saving even one life takes precedence over the entire Torah," for reasons of safety we are unable to perform the mitzva of guarding the site of the Holy Temple today.
(Sichot Kodesh Ki Tisa, 5747 - 1987)
Jacob's parents died when he was just a little boy, but fortunately for him, an old blacksmith took him in after finding him one day by the wayside, tired and hungry, looking for a place to eat and drink.
The old blacksmith was a kind old man but had little use for learning. Thus, young Jacob did not attend cheder (school) anymore, for the old blacksmith kept him in the smithy all day, teaching him the skills of the trade.
Jacob might have forgotten how to read, let alone study, but he had in his possession a treasure with which he would not part for anything in the world. This was a thin volume of the Talmud, known as Chagiga, which the Rabbi had given him as a parting gift upon his leaving cheder.
Whenever Jacob found a free moment, he would eagerly take out his Talmud - the only holy book he had other than his prayer book - and study it religiously. He loved his precious Talmud.
Thus he grew up with the old blacksmith, far away from any Jewish settlement. Only on festivals would they leave their isolated surroundings and travel to the nearest Jewish community to be with their fellow Jews. The rest of the time, except on Shabbat, they would be working in the smithy.
When the old blacksmith passed away, he left his smithy to Jacob, for he loved him as a son. He had taught Jacob to be a skilled craftsman. But even though the peasants and wagon-drivers liked Jacob's work and were more than willing to pay the price he asked, he barely earned enough to "keep the wolf from the door," as the saying goes.
Jacob lived in poverty with neither wife nor children, but he did not complain, for he had known poverty all his life. Solitude was no hardship for him either - he was used to that, too. Jacob studied his Chagiga page by page, line by line, and word by word. He did this over and over again with every spare moment, until he practically knew it all by heart.
It is hard enough for a Jew to live far from a Jewish community, but it is worse still for a Jew to die in such a lonely place. Jacob was only in his fifties when G-d decided that he had finished his work on earth. He passed away with not a soul present to witness his last moments, bending over his treasure, the Talmud Chagiga.
Days passed and no one missed Jacob. The doors of the smithy were closed, but the few who called thought he had gone into town. The Jews of the nearest town were going about their business as usual, when the quiet was pierced by the wailing of a veiled woman in white who ran crying through the streets. People ran out of their homes and businesses to see what all the noise was about. The rabbi, too, went out and tried to calm the distressed stranger.
"What is the trouble, good woman?" he asked her gently. "My poor husband has died and there is no one to see to his burial," she replied in sorrowful tones.
"Do not worry," he assured her. "I shall see to it that your husband will be buried in the proper manner without delay."
When the local inhabitants saw the rabbi walking with this strange woman in white, everyone turned out to inquire what it was all about. When they learned that the rabbi was escorting the woman home to attend her husband's funeral, they all closed their stores and businesses and followed.
By the time the procession reached the smithy where poor Jacob lay - still bent over his precious volume of Talmud - the crowd had grown to include nearly every man, woman and child in the town.
When the rabbi saw the size of the crowd who had come to pay their last respects to the poor smith, he turned in astonishment to the woman and asked her: "Tell me, good woman, who are you and who was your husband that he seems to be deserving of so much honor?"
"My name is Chagiga," replied the veiled woman. "My husband was a good Jew who devoted fifty years to me. He treasured me and cared for me to the depth of his ability. Surely such a life's companion is deserving of the greatest honor."
"You are quite right," said the rabbi. "A Jew who honors his wife so, must indeed be a good and deserving man. It is fitting that all these people have come to do him honor."
The woman stepped aside to allow the rabbi to enter the room where Jacob lay. As his glance fell upon the open volume, he saw the name "Chagiga." He turned to look at the woman but she had vanished.
It dawned on him that she represented the spirit of Talmud Chagiga. She had repaid the honor and esteem in which Jacob had kept her throughout these long years.
Jacob was buried with the greatest honor, and was laid to rest amongst the graves of the saintliest of Jews.
"Blessed is the man who honors the Torah," declared the rabbi, "that the Torah should thus honor him."
Even if a single individual carries out his service in a perfect manner, what effect can such activity have on the world at large? On the surface, the world seems to be going on without being affected by a Jew's service in spreading the wellsprings of Chasidic teachings outward or preparing for Moshiach's coming. This, however, represents a very narrow view of what is going on in the world. In truth, the world is ready for Moshiach's coming and when a Jew carries out his service in the proper manner, the world itself and the gentile nations will assist him.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Korach, Gimmel Tammuz, 5751-1991)