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Many folks from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains will be going on nature walks, drives through the mountains, or strolls in parks over the next few weeks to enjoy the change of colors and scenery that autumn affords. Kids in particular enjoy collecting the fallen autumn leaves.
Sometimes it's for a school project (having to identify which leaves came from which trees?), an art project, or a personal project (trying to find leaves in as many different colors and shapes as possible?).
Do you remember one of those "nature/art projects" that many of us did as kids? You took leaves and put them under a sheet of paper. With the edge of a crayon you rubbed the paper over the leaf and were able to recognize not only the shape of the leaf but even its main stem and veins. You couldn't rub it too lightly or too firmly, though, or it wouldn't work.
Jewish life is like one big leaf collecting project if you consider that mitzvot are very much like leaves. They come in all different colors and shapes and sizes and textures. And, as Jewish teachings explain, just as no two faces are exactly the same neither are there two temperaments or opinions that are exactly the same.
Thus, individuals are attracted to different mitzvot. But, despite one's propensity for a certain shaped or colored leaf, if the teacher said you had to collect ten different leaves you had to collect TEN different leaves.
Similarly, though we might enjoy doing one mitzva over another mitzva, or five mitzvot rather than 13 mitzvot, when the Teacher says to collect 13, you gotta collect 13.
Similar to the way we execute the art project, we should be neither too firm nor too light in doing these mitzvot, but should follow the rules and tread the middle path; if we don't then the project won't work. It's not a punishment either, it just won't work.
Often people ask, "But isn't the main part of the mitzva the intent? After all, G-d desires the heart!"
Intent and sincerity are a major part of the mitzva but not the main thing. The actual doing of the mitzva, and doing it according to the rules, is the major part.
If you do it wrong, you won't get punished, it just won't come out right. Like the art project with the leaf which doesn't work if you rub too hard or too soft (or not at all), there won't be an image on the paper. And with the mitzva, if it's not done right there won't be an image on your soul, or on the environment, or on the world. That's not a punishment, it's simply a fact. Too little or too much, too light or too hard, too hot or too cold. If you don't do it right it just won't work.
But, there's always next time to try again.
Keep on collecting those leaves and those mitzvot. Enjoy them. Appreciate them. Have favorites that you especially treasure and look for at every opportunity. Eagerly anticipate the times of year when certain mitzvot are more readily available or easily discernible than at other times.
Take a stroll, or a walk or a drive through the glorious colors and scents and textures of mitzvot every single day of your life.
This week's portion is the first portion of the entire Torah, Breishit. It discusses the Creation of the world and Adam and Eve's function in the world.
It is something of a paradox that from the very beginning, while still in the utopian setting of the Garden of Eden, Adam was immediately put to work. Quite contrary to the popular image, Adam never had a chance to enjoy complete rest or relaxation, free of duties and responsibilities. Even before violating the Divine command, the innocent Adam's raison d'etre was "to work and watch it (i.e. the Garden of Eden). Yet Adam's life in the Garden at that time is considered the epitome of "good living." Obviously, hard work and the good life are not incompatible. In fact, hard work makes the good life, as we shall soon see.
The question may be asked: Could not the All Merciful G-d have shown even greater kindness by creating a perfect world where nothing would be lacking, work would be superfluous and labor unnecessary? Where man would subsist on His Grace alone and be able to "take it easy" instead of working and earning a living?
We are told that man was created after everything else so that he should find all his needs already provided for. Then why this need for work? If work, and improvement of the world is called for, then obviously Creation was not yet at its best. Yet the Alm-ghty seemed to be satisfied with this imperfect state of affairs, for every successive development of the first six days of Creation is called "good". Here is a clear indication that it is these very imperfections and faults - requiring improvement and work - that are part of the ultimate good.
G-d did not wish to shower undeserved bliss and good on humans. On the contrary, he wanted to leave an area for people to work at and exercise their creativity. G-d wanted to give a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, something we could consider our own. There is definitely a greater appreciation of that which a person earns by the labor of his own hands than what he receives as a "handout". In fact, the Talmud tells us that people prefer a single bushel of their own produce to nine bushels received as a giveaway.
Things would certainly have been easier and less complicated if we were to receive everything on a "silver platter" without effort and sweat on our part. But that would be eating "the undeserved bread of shame" as the Zohar puts it.
There is a saying, "it is hard to be a Jew," a minority in an alien (if not hostile) society, where one finds the going rough, discouraging and difficult. Nothing comes easy; yet this too is for our own good. Only that which we rightfully earn through persistent work and effort gives true satisfaction; a feeling of victory comes only after a challenge. Perhaps if things were easier and hardships were eliminated much more would be achieved. But, then again, the "examination papers" of life are marked for effort even more than for accomplishment.
Kaddish in Deadwood
by Randy Diamond
For those who have not had the opportunity to drive the roads of South Dakota and see up close the remnants of the old Wild West, it is a genuine treat...Each year, particularly during the summer, millions of tourists from throughout the United States will visit South Dakota to see the famous Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and many other sites.
For those tourists who are Jewish however, there are additional points of interest that have an even more enhanced appeal to the "people of the book"...
This famous little western town, best known as the burial place of Wild Bill Hitchcock and Calamity Jane also had a Jewish past. The story of Deadwood's Jewish history begins back in the gold rush days in the 1870's. Many prospectors came to the area to seek their fortunes, among them a few hundred Jews.
At Deadwood's peak during that period about half of the store fronts were actually owned or rented by Jews, who were mostly merchants. Today, more than 80 Deadwood Jews are buried on Hebrew Hill, also known as Mount Zion. Although our connection to Deadwood only began a short two weeks ago, as I along with my brother Rick and cousin Jon Diamond were traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to Aspen, Colorado for a short pleasure trip. All of us are old "road warriors" and enjoy the open road, so we decided to take a short detour (of a few hundred miles) to take a look at the old wild-west which we really had only seen in the movies.
Shortly after we left Cleveland that first Sunday morning Jonny happened to mention that he needed to say kaddish (a special prayer recited for one who has passed away) for his father Herb, who had passed away 19 years ago, on the following evening. Knowing that by this time we were going to be in the middle of nowhere (or so we thought), Jonny had decided to simply have someone back in Ohio say it for him.
As we continued our way down the road heading west we thought that maybe there would be some way that we could put together a minyan and somehow be able to chant the sacred prayer.
Jonny decided to call his dear friend Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann, who is the head Chabad shliach (emissary) in Columbus Ohio to see if he could assist. Rabbi Kaltmann, in his typical enthusiastic and jolly Australian accent, didn't hesitate. "I will take care of this, so don't you worry, I'll call you back in a few minutes". Sure enough, after reaching out to his colleague Rabbi Grossman from North Dakota, Rabbi Kaltmann called to inform us that they have rounded up a group to meet us in Deadwood, which would be our destination for the following evening. Jonny would be able to say kaddish after all...
We arrived the next day only a few minutes before the appointed time, knowing only that we were to meet in the hotel lobby. Sure enough at 8 p.m. the minyan-aires started to come in, one by one, two by two. Most of them certainly didn't appear to be religious, per se, and in most cases they didn't even seem to know one other. As each of the men introduced themselves, we learned that many had driven as far as an hour to get to Deadwood. Some were doctors or lawyers, and a few were Israelis who operated various seasonal retail shops in South Dakota resorts.
A few minutes later we all adjourned to a meeting room where we prayed the evening service, and Jonny was able to say kaddish...He said a few nice words about the type of man his father Herb Diamond was, a successful merchant from Cleveland who had a wonderfully charismatic personality, and devoted himself to a great deal of kindness to Jews and gentiles alike.
For each and every one of us who were there that evening, all 12 of us, this moment in time was one that none of us will ever forget. We all came from different cities, different countries and different backgrounds. Before that evening most of us really didn't know each other, but we came together simply in the spirit of wanting to help a fellow Jew do the special mitzva (commandment) of saying kaddish.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe very actively promoted the concept of Ahavat Yisrael, the love of a fellow Jew. And as he sent his shluchim to the various points around the globe, each one understood that their mission, among many others, was to reach out to each and every Jew and make them feel loved, welcomed and unified...For those of us who were in Deadwood, South Dakota on this very special evening, we were genuinely unified for the purpose of doing this special mitzvah. Whether we knew it or not, the three Diamonds who trekked some 2000 miles to share in this moment became a part of the continuing legacy of the Jews of Deadwood.
Saying Mazel 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 well-being, 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.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
Historic Synagogue Restored
Government and Jewish community leaders, Jewish citizens and the general public, celebrated the restoration of a 100-year-old synagogue in Kazan, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia. The synagogue was returned to the Jewish community in 1996 in utter disrepair and has since been restored to its original splendor based on historic documentation.
A freely adapted letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
We are reminded of the custom in some communities to proclaim at the outgoing moments of Simchas Torah (the culmination and final key-note of all the festivals of Tishrei): "And Yaakov went on his way," meaning, his prescribed way and G-dly service, his way of life, throughout the year.
There is a message contained in the phrase And Yaakov went on his way - and bearing in mind that each letter and word of the Torah is a world full of meaning and instruction -
There is need to elaborate on the concepts contained in the said three Hebrew words, to wit:
And Yaakov: It is well known that the two names of our Patriarch, Yaakov and Yisrael, are quite different,
- In time - the name Yaakov was given at birth, whereas "Yisrael" was bestowed later, after he had achieved "You have striven with Angels and with men, and have prevailed."
- In meaning - the name Yaakov is associated with ekev, "heel," which is the lowest and last part of the body, wherein there is hardly any distinction between one person and another. The name Yisrael, on the other hand, has to do with leadership and mastery, and, rearranged, spell "li rosh," "I am the head," the head being the highest part of the body, wherein the essential differences (physical and spiritual) between individuals are located, viz, facial features, voice, looks, and mentality.
Now, the significance of Yaakov, in the said message of "And Yaakov went on his way," is in that it refers to the Divine mission given to every Jew, without exception, from birth, while still in the state of "Yaakov," and at the beginning of his Divine service. From this starting point, the said mission is to be fulfilled in a manner containing the following elements:
Went on - implying true locomotion, i.e. leaving completely behind one place (and spiritual state) to go to another, more desirable place.
Parenthetically, this is the reason why angels are called "omdim - stationary," for although "they fulfill the Will of their Maker with awe and fear, and praise G-d in song and melody" - which is their form of advancement to higher states, there is no complete departure and change involved in their nature, hence this cannot be termed perfect "going."
Only man is called "mehalech," a "walker," for his task is to go from strength to strength, even if his previous station, spiritually, is satisfactory. Yet, to remain in the same state will not do at all. His progression must involve a change, to the extent where his new spiritual state is incomparably higher than his previous one, however good it was, and he must thus continue on the road that leads to G-dliness, the En Sof, the Infinite as indicated further -
His way - the King's Way, the way of the Supreme King of the universe. The preeminence of a perfect way, as has been pointed out, is that it links the remotest corner with the Royal Palace in the Capital City; it is a two-way road, leading from the Palace to the remote corner and from the remote corner to the Palace.
Likewise, the Divine mission of every Jew, whose soul descended from the pinnacle of her heavenly abode to the nadir of the material world, for the purpose of linking the two through his Divine service in both directions: "From below - upwards" (generally through prayer, "Unto You, O G-d, I lift up my soul"), and "from above - downwards" (generally through the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvos, G-d's wisdom and will, respectively, as reflected, particularly, in the mitzva of tzedaka, giving alms to a poor and needy person, who craves for everything, having nothing of his own).
This is also how the service of every Jew, man and woman, should be. One must not be satisfied with one's influence at home, in the community, or country, but one must open the way, the King's way, as above, that leads even to the remotest corner of the earth, in order to bring there, too, the word of the King of Kings, and illuminate that corner with the light of Torah and mitzvos, and to uplift all that is in that corner to the state of "Unto You, O G-d, I lift my soul."
May G-d grant that each and everyone of us will carry out the mission included in the said instruction of "And Yaakov went on his way," with all that it connotes, and carry it out with joy for "joy breaks through barriers."
"If you go in my statutes... I will give your rains in their season..." (Lev. 26:3.4) Torah-study and mitzvot (commandment) - observance are the wedding-ring with which G-d betrothed Israel and obligated Himself to provide them with sustenance and livelihood.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Having just recently experienced the joy and enthusiasm of the holiday of Simchat Torah, it is appropriate to consider what kind of a message the holiday carries which we can implement into our lives.
We have been enjoined to "Serve G-d with joy" and we are told that "joy breaks all boundaries." Certainly, then, in these days immediately following Simchat Torah, the conclusive lesson for us is to carry the spirit of joy and happiness of the holiday into our observance of Judaism.
Chasidic philosophy in particular demands enthusiasm and joy in every activity connected with the performance of mitzvot and the study of Torah.
Modern science and medical studies have, in fact, conclusively found that one's attitude can directly effect one's health. We all know people who are tense, jittery or under a lot of pressure. Unfortunately they almost always pay for it with assorted physical ailments. On the other hand, we've all heard stories about people who when ill, filled their time with pleasant activities or humorous pursuits; their recovery was noticeably quicker than that of others.
The Torah, the guidebook and blueprint for all humanity, was given to us by G-d, the ultimate healer. He certainly knows how we can best keep in the top condition, physically and spiritually. By incorporating joy and happiness into every aspect of our lives, we work toward attaining a healthy body and soul.
G-d created Adam (the man) in his image (Gen. 1: 27)
The Midrash states that when Adam was first created, he filled the earth. G-d shrunk him and removed parts from his limbs and placed small pieces of flesh around him. Adam said, "Master of the Universe! Why are you stealing from me? Replied G-d, "I will return it. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth - as you did originally. Take these pieces and scatter them around the world. Wherever they are buried, populations of your descendants will settle. Every child is a part of Adam. Each legitimate birth is a fulfillment of the command to multiply and fill the earth. This is the signfiicance of our Sages' teaching that Moshiach will not come unitl the souls have been born into bodies.
In the beginning G-d created (Gen. 1:1)
The "beginning" and foundation of all knowledge is the understanding that "G-d created the heavens and the earth" - acknowledging the Creator Who not only made the world but actively involves Himself in its existence. This first principle is the basis upon which all others are predicated.
(Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov)
All His work which G-d created to make (Gen. 2:3)
Throughout history every generation has made its own discoveries and innovations, but this ability to innovate is not "new," having been created by G-d during the Six Days of Creation. This is the meaning of the words "to make": G-d invested His world with certain inherent powers which would evolve and be developed over time.
And man was not there to work the ground (Gen. 2:5)
A person must not put all of himself into working the ground; only his hands should be involved. Investing too much of oneself into this area is a sure sign that an individual has forfeited some of that which makes him "man": "and man was not there."
When the Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch was a young child he was unusually serious, but often a bit mischievous.
One day, when he was just six or seven years old and searching for a quiet place to sit and learn Torah, he decided to try the women's section of the Shul. But suddenly the silence was broken by sound of the side door opening followed by the sobs of a woman. He silently walked to the front of the balcony and peeked down to the main floor. There he saw a woman standing before the Holy Ark, weeping uncontrollably.
"G-d, please help me!" she moaned. "I'm alone! I've tried to work; I've tried everything. But the house is bare and my children are starving! My husband is dead, all I have is You. Please answer my prayers, G-d!"
Little Shmuel felt he had to do something. She was disturbing his learning and besides, he couldn't stand to see suffering. He ducked down behind the low wall and said in the lowest voice he could conjure. "Lady! Lady! Do not worry!" The high ceiling of the empty Shul created a sort of heavenly echo that made it seem as though his voice was coming from everywhere.
The woman fell to her knees, looked up at the ceiling, raised her hands towards heaven and sighed "Oh! Oh! Thank you, Lord!" When he saw it was working he continued, "Do not cry! You will have money. I am giving you the power to heal! When someone is sick, just take a glass of water, make a blessing on it, drink a bit, pour a bit for the sick person, and then bless them. People will pay you much money and you will never be needy again!"
Then the boy paused dramatically for a moment and said, "But remember! Never tell anyone how you got this power." "Oh, I won't. I promise!" She innocently replied. "Thank you, Lord. Thank you! I won't tell a soul. Oh, this is wonderful!"
The next morning she got to work spreading the word that she could heal, and that very day someone brought their sick father to be cured. She felt a bit strange but she did as the voice had told her the day before and amazingly, it worked. The man actually felt better!
The news spread like a forest fire and in no time people were lined up at her door. She transformed from a pauper to a fairly wealthy woman in just a few weeks. The years passed. About 25 years later the child, Shmuel, became the Rebbe "Maharash" of Chabad, renowned throughout Russia for his genius and his holiness. Thousands flocked to his center in Lubavitch to obtain his blessings and his advice.
Then, one cold winter he became dangerously ill. He had developed a boil that had become seriously infected and his health deteriorated rapidly. The Rebbe had a high fever and it appeared there was no alternative but to operate. Then someone suggested that maybe, as a last resort, they should try Bubba (Grandma) Sarah. It seems there was this old Jewish lady in Vitebsk that had some charm for healing people and because there was no other choice she was brought, trembling with awe at the thought that she was actually in the same room with the holy Lubavitcher Rebbe, to heal him.
The Rebbe was lying on his back, his head propped up by a large pillow breathing with great difficulty and in obvious pain. But before she could even begin he asked, "First you must tell me what the source of your power to heal is."
"Oh, Rebbe!" moaned the old woman. "Please don't ask me to do that. I promised that I wouldn't tell. Please Rebbe!" But the Rebbe insisted. "I promise that nothing will happen to you or your remedy. "After all, G-d also tells me things that are secret, so He won't mind if I know your secret too. In any case, I cannot take your treatment until you tell me."
How could she deny the holy Rebbe? She told him the entire story of how 25 years ago a heavenly voice spoke to her in the shul. Suddenly the Rebbe realized that it was he himself that had given her the blessing and he began to laugh. It was painful because of the boil, but the more he thought about it the harder he laughed, he simply couldn't stop himself.
His family, hearing the noise from where they were in the next room, thought the Rebbe was having some sort of attack and rushed into the room after sending for the doctor. The doctor arrived just in time to see that the Rebbe's exuberant laughter had split the boil open and now all that remained was to clean the wound. In just days the Rebbe was back on his feet, a completely healthy man!
"G-d blessed them, and G-d said to them: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 1:28) Just as the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their efforts to be fruitful and multiply, so will they be redeemed in the future in the merit of their efforts to be fruitful and multiply. Which source indicaites that they will not be redeemed unless they are fruitful and multiply so that they fill the entire word? For it is stated, (Isaiah 54:3) "For right and left shall you spread out, and your seed shall inherit nations and repopulate desolate cities"
(Tana D'Vei Eliyahu Zuta, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach uGeula al HaTorah)