Friday, September 11, 2009

PARSHA - Netzavim - Vayelach

This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and VaYeilech. Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana.
Indeed the first verse says: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d." "This day" refers to the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana. "Today" we are standing upright and secure that we will be judged favorably, for we stand as one and are unified in the mitzva of loving our fellow Jew.

It is this special unity which gives the Jewish people the strength to endure, and it is the vessel in which G-d's blessings are fulfilled. Like a bundle of straw: each one, individually, is weak and can be easily broken, but once the straw is gathered and bound together it is impossible to bend. When we, the Jewish people, are bound together, we stand powerful and secure. We then become worthy of entering into G-d's covenant on Rosh Hashana.

A covenant is designed to preserve the love that exists between two people. It is established at a time when their love is strongest. This bond connects them and ensures that their love will last.

G-d's love for us is strongest on Rosh Hashana. By us being united one with another we then arouse His desire to establish a covenant with us.

The Jewish nation is compared to the human body that is composed of many different limbs and organs, which achieves perfection only, when all its limbs act in harmony. We are composed of different types and ranks of people, and we can only achieve perfection when WE all act - in harmony.

May G-d grant us all a good and sweet year!

Parshat - Nitzavim & Vayelech

This week's Torah portion of Nitzavim (& Vayelech) is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana.

It begins with: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d, your heads, your tribes, your elders... all the men of Israel, your children and your wives ... that you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d."

With these words, Moses brought the Jewish people into a state of collective and mutual surety. Indeed, our Sages declared, "All Jews are guarantors for one another."

Commenting on the verse "You are standing this day, all of you," Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained that Jews comprise a single entity. Metaphorically speaking, the Jewish people form one body, with each individual Jew being an integral part of the whole.

A physical body is composed of many organs and limbs, each one of which serves its own unique function. That the head is superior to the foot is obvious, but without the foot, the body is incomplete. A defect in the foot affects the entire person. In order to exist as a healthy entity, the body requires all of its organs to be in prime condition and to work in consonance.

So too is it in regard to the Jewish people. There are many different types and categories of Jews. Some are on the level of "head," while others may be said to be the "feet." Nonetheless, each and every Jew is of inestimable value, an essential part of the Jewish people without whom the "body" of Jews would be incomplete. For this reason, all Jews are "guarantors for one another," as each individual possesses unique qualities which are necessary for the health and integrity of the whole .

True unity is only possible when all Jews stand together as one!

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 6:49 p.m.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ayeko - Where are you??

In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi was imprisoned on charges, put forth by the opponents of Chassidism, that his teachings undermined the imperial authority of the czar. For 52 days he was held in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg.

Among the Rebbe's interrogators was a government minister who possessed broad knowledge of the Bible and Jewish studies. He once asked the Rebbe to explain the verse: "And G-d called out to the man (adam) and said to him: 'Where are you?' Did G-d not know where Adam was?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman presented the explanation offered by several of the commentaries: that the "Where are you?" was merely a "conversation opener" on the part of G-d, who did not wish to unnerve Adam by immediately confronting him with his wrongdoing.

"What Rashi says, I know," said the minister. "I wish to hear how the Rebbe understands the verse."

"Do you believe that the Torah is eternal?" asked the Rebbe. "Do you believe that its every word applies to every individual, under all conditions, at all times?"

"Yes," replied the minister.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was extremely gratified to hear this. The czar's minister had affirmed a principle which lies at the basis of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the very teachings and ideology for which he was standing trial!

"'Where are you?"explained the Rebbe, "is G-d's perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days," -- here Rabbi Schneur Zalman spelled out the exact age of the minister --

"Where are you? What have you achieved?"

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Mind rules the Heart

In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi states: "By its very nature, the mind rules the heart." This is a cornerstone of the Chabad-Chassidic approach to life.

The renowned chassid Rabbi Moshe Meisels of Vilna, youngest of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's disciples, was an extremely learned man, was fluent in German, Russian, Polish and French. During Napoleon's war on Russia he served as a translator for the French High Command. Rabbi Schneur Zalman had charged him to associate with the French military officials, and to convey all that he learned to the commanders of the Russian army. Within a short while Rabbi Moshe had succeeded in gaining the favor of the chief commanders of Napoleon's army and was privy to their most secret plans.

Relates Reb Moshe:
"The High Command of the French army was meeting, and hotly debating the maneuvers for the upcoming battle. The maps were spread on the floor, and the generals were examining the roads and trails, unable to reach a decision.

They were still debating when the door flew open with a crash. The guard stationed at the door was greatly alarmed and drew his revolver. Everyone thought it was the enemy who had burst in.

But - it was Napoleon himself who appeared in the doorway. The Emperor's face was dark with fury. He stormed into the room and raged: 'Has the battle been planned?

And who is this stranger?!' he continued, pointing to me. In a flash he was at my side. 'You are a spy for Russia!' he thundered, and placed his hand upon my chest to feel the pounding heart of a man exposed.

At that moment, my mind commanded my heart to beat not an increment faster, as I was taught that 'the mind rules the heart'. In an unwavering voice I said: 'The commanders of His Highness the Emperor have taken me as their interpreter, as I am knowledgeable in the languages crucial to the carrying out of their duties...' "

The mind ruled the heart.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mitzva - JUST DO IT!

What if I'm not in the mood to do a mitzvah? Is it better to do less of the obligations but with a fuller heart, or to fulfill them with an un-enthusiastic heart?

The Answer:

Judaism views life as a mission: we are here to make this world a better place through our actions. We Jews don't allow ourselves the luxury of "waiting until I can do it for the right reasons," which is actually a subtle form of selfishness—albeit a more spiritual expression of selfishness than the standard version.

There was once a wealthy man who was known for his philanthropy and kindness. No beggar left his home hungry and without a generous donation. Nevertheless, this man was plagued by inner turmoil. He felt that his charity lacked "truth"; his kindness was more the product of ulterior, subtly selfish, motives.

He traveled to his Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi,the founder of Chabad Chassidism, and poured out his spiritually troubled heart. "Is it all worth it," he asked, "if my mitzva is missing the most fundamental ingredient of truth?"

Rabbi Schneur Zalman responded: "But the hungry man you've fed is 'truly' not hungry now!"

On the other hand, it is certainly a worthy and important goal to do things "with all our heart," as we say in the Shema. But when facing the choice between doing something without feeling or not doing it at alljust do it!

Monday, September 7, 2009


Today is the18th day of the Hebrew month of Elul.

18, is Chai. Chai Elul was the date of birth of the Baal Shem Tov -- founder of Chasidut in general, and also of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidut.

The Previous Rebbe described Chai Elul by saying that it introduces chayot - literally meaning, life energy -- into the service of the month of Elul.

The service of Elul includes Torah study, prayer and deeds of kindness as well as teshuva and redemption.

Every moment, as G-d totally recreates the world anew, it includes all previous and all subsequent moments.

Similarly, it is explained that in one moment of true Teshuva -- return and repentance - a person can compensate for inadequacies in his behavior, during his life.

And that is possible - because each moment contains within it the totality of time and can thus alter the nature of the events which occurred previously.

This concept, although true at all times, receives greater emphasis during the month of Elul.

And Chai Elul contributes the dimension of chayot - life energy - to all of this.

On this basis, we can understand the uniqueness of Chai Elul. As explained, Elul is a month of general significance which includes all the service of the Jewish people. Chai Elul emphasizes the chayot -- "life energy" -- of that service.

And the stock-taking which takes place from Chai Elul onwards is of a more essential nature than that which took place from the beginning of Elul.

Wishing you all a productive day, and rest of Elul, with much "life"!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

18th Elul/chai elul. Alter Rebbe/ Tanya

Tomorrow, the 18th day of Elul, is the birthday of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi -- also known as "The Alter Rebbe," the "Baal HaTanya". He was born in the White Russian town of Liozna, in the year 1745. He traveled to Mezritch to study under the tutelage of the Baal Shem Tov's successor, Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Mezritcher Magid. Despite his youth, he was accepted into the inner circle of the great master's pupils.

Upon his return from Mezritch, there gathered about him a group of disciples whom he instructed in the ways of Chassidism. For twenty years he labored on his magnum opus, Tanya, in which he outlined the Chabad philosophy. It contains a concise outline of his philosophical system as a way of life, and attests to his vast knowledge and the depth of his understanding and mastery of both the exoteric and esoteric teachings of our Sages.

Tanya is the "bible" of Chabad Chassidism, upon which the hundreds of books and thousands of discourses by seven generations of Chabad Rebbes are based.

He taught that a Chassid was to train himself for a life of faith and service to G-d, which would carry him to the highest level of Chabad, the three powers of intellect: Wisdom, Understanding and Grasping, forming a bond between heaven and earth.

Upon this basic thought Rabbi Shneur Zalman built the structure of Chabad ideology. Total man serves G-d with mind, heart and deed in unison, each complementing the other. The mind understands, the heart feels and the hand performs

Today, the Chabad movement he founded is regarded as the most vibrant force in contemporary Jewish life, bringing the warmth of Chassidism and the profundity of its teachings to Jews, and to humanity as a whole.