Thursday, December 23, 2010

Parshas Shmois - We are like stars...

The name of this week's Torah portion, identical to that of the second of the five books of Torah, is "Shemot" ("Names"). This is because this Torah portion starts off with once again mentioning the names of the tribes.

The names of the tribes have previously been mentioned numerous times in the Torah. Why are they listed here once again?

Rashi explains that this teaches us how precious the Children of Israel are to G-d, for in His eyes they are compared to the stars which He counts and calls by name time and time again.

Why are we, the Children of Israel, compared to stars?

Stars shine brightly in the night sky. By their light, a person who walks in the darkness of the night will not lose his or her way. Similarly, every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual light to positively influence their peers and guide them to the proper path.

Additionally, despite the great distance between us and the stars, we are able to see them and benefit from their light.
If we utilize the strength G-d gave us, we have the ability - like stars - to illuminate not merely our immediate environment, but the entire world! Every single deed is important. One action, one word or one thought of one individual can have an influence on the entire world!

As Maimonides instructs, one should always consider that he and the entire world are being judged by G-d and that the scales of justice are even.
One mitzvah, one good deed, can tip the scale to the side of merit and bring redemption to the entire world!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Deep Concentration - Learning Torah....

Shlomo HaMelach (King Solomon) writes that a person should be so occupied with his love for Torah, that one drop all affairs in order to run and learn Torah.

The Rebbe related the following story to teach us that when one delves into something deeply, he can reach a point where he does not even notice what's happening around him.

"Once, the Mozhitzer Rebbe was in need of an operation, but the doctors were afraid that in his weak state he would not be able to handle the pain. The Mozhitzer Rebbe suggested that they allow him to sing a Niggun (a chassidic song), wait until he is fully absorbed in it, and then operate on him. This way, he would not feel anything. The doctors followed his instructions, and amazingly, everything went smoothly!

Here is another story illustrating the deep concentration we can, and ought to attain.

One winter, Reb Yosef from the city of Lubavitch, traveled in a horse drawn sled on a dangerously slippery and bumpy path. The sled shook violently and swayed from side to side, eventually causing Reb Yosef to fall overboard into the snow. Unfortunately, the driver did not notice and continued on without him. And Reb Yosef? So immersed in deep concentration was he, that he felt not a thing of the freezing snow in which he was sitting. A while later, a group of Chassidim passed by and saw Reb Yosef sitting in the snow. When asked what he was doing there, he looked surprised and replied, "I am on my way to Lubavitch."

Now that's deep concentration.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Can Control Our Thoughts....

A chassid once came to Rabbi DovBer, the "Maggid" of Mezeritch.

"Rebbe," he said, " When the Almighty commands us to do a certain deed or refrain from a certain act, I understand that however difficult it may be, I can do what G-d commanded because we all have free choice - to do something or not to. The same with speech, it is within my power to decide which words will leave my mouth and which will not.

"But what I find hard to understand is when the Torah forbids us to entertain thoughts that are destructive and wrong. Can a person really control his thoughts??"

"Go to my disciple, Rabbi Zev"
said the Maggid, "He can answer your question."

And so the chassid made the trip through the snow-covered forests of White Russia. He arrived at Rabbi Zev's doorstep late into the night. To his happy surprise, there was a light shining through the window and he could see Rabbi Zev bent over his books.

He knocked on the door expectantly, but there was no response. He knocked louder, but there was still no response. As the night wore on, and he got colder and colder, he kept pounding on the door. But Rabbi Zev was seemingly oblivious to the banging on the door-just a few feet away-and continued to study his books.

After a while of this unusual behavior, Rabbi Zev suddenly rose from his seat, opened the door, and warmly greeted his freezing visitor. He prepared a hot glass of tea for him and inquired after the health of their Rebbe.

"Actually, our Rebbe was the one who sent me to you" the confused Chassid said, " saying that you could answer a question that I've been troubled by for some time. I simply cannot understand how it is that we are expected to really control what enters our thoughts!"

"I just gave you my answer",
said Reb Zev, smiling. "Though you knocked incessantly on my door, I did not open up for you to come in. In my home, I am the boss. Whomever I wish to admit -- I allow in; and whomever I do not wish to admit -- I do not allow entry."

We are our own boss!
We have the power to control who, or what, enters our thoughts!