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The story is told of a man who hears about a faraway land where diamonds litter the street and the man decides to travel to this distant spot. Upon his arrival, the man sees diamonds of every shape, size and color, literally littering the streets. He begins loading his suitcases until, after hours of work, they are full.
Wearily, the nouveau riche gentleman drags his precious suitcases to the hotel where he orders a luxury suite. He then proceeds down to the dining room and orders a most expensive meal.
When the bill arrives, the diamond magnate takes out a huge diamond and tells the waiter to keep the change. The waiter is not amused. "What, may I ask, is this stone doing here?" he asks with a sour face.
"This is payment for my most delicious meal," answers the newcomer with a smile.
"These have no value here," snaps the waiter. "Here we value chicken fat! And if you haven't enough chicken fat, you will have to wash dishes to work off your debt."
The man thinks this is a joke. But, as he is dragged to the kitchen, it becomes apparent that here is one place where diamonds are useless.
The man works off his meal. But he also has to pay for his other expenses. Weeks pass and his hard-working nature is noticed. He rises in the hotel ranks until he is able to actually save a little cold fat. Time passes and the man has a collection of chicken fat. He has become quite wealthy. It is time to return home.
As his yacht nears the dock, he sees his family waiting. But, why are they covering their noses! His wife forces a smile and inquires about the horrible odor. Sniffing once more, she adds, "It smells like chicken fat!"
"Yes. That's right. The yacht is filled with chicken fat," her husband says delightedly. "We are rich!"
"Where are the diamonds?" asks the wife in confusion, "that you were to bring after all these years away?"
"What value are diamonds?" asks the husband. "They are as common as dust. Only chicken fat has value."
Shocked beyond belief, his wife tries to explain that here, chicken fat is worthless, but diamonds have value. Over and over she tells him, "You forgot the real purpose of your trip. You were supposed to collect diamonds, not chicken fat. Do you have even one diamond with you. One little souvenir of all your years of hard labor in that strange land?"
Crestfallen, the man shrugs his shoulders. Maybe in one of his suitcases he can find a diamond that he forgot to discard. Halfheartedly he rummages through his bags. Indeed, he finds one tiny diamond. Not the most beautiful, nor the best quality, but a diamond all the same.
With that one small diamond, he manages to pay off all the debts his family incurred during his absence and to start all over again.
The story, of course, is not true. It is a parable, though for the descent of the soul into the body. When the soul comes into the world, it is told, "Be righteous and do not be wicked"--follow G-d's commandments, for they are as precious as diamonds. Collect them, cherish them. Garner as many as you can during your short sojourn.
But often, the soul gets confused. It forgets its mission and its promise. The soul begins to collect "chicken fat," to get involved in all the mundane pursuits of this world, all the while thinking the chicken fat is what has true and lasting value.
But finally, the day comes when the soul returns from its journey. Joyously the soul begins showing off its "chicken fat," oblivious that it has forgotten the reason for its descent into this world.
Gently, in the Heavenly Court, it is asked, "Have you not a few precious diamonds, some mitzvot to show for your years on earth?"
Ashamedly, the soul searches here and there until it finds a few things: a kind word; a prayer offered for someone's speedy recovery; charity to support a yeshiva; a blessing recited on challa; a Jewish class attended; a Shabbat candle lit. And oh, how the soul wishes that it would have remembered its purpose and the reason for its descent.
This week's Torah portion, Bo, speaks of the last three plagues visited on Egypt, and of the Jewish People's long-awaited departure from there. It begins with G-d's command to Moses that he go to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to warn him of the impending plague of locusts. G-d, however, states that Pharaoh will not heed the warning: "For I have hardened his heart...in order that you tell in the ears of your son and your son's son that which I have wrought in Egypt."
We learn from this that the locusts did not come as a punishment for Pharaoh's refusal to heed the warning; G-d had hardened his heart so that he would be unable to agree to free the Jews. But if such is the case, isn't it unjust for G-d to punish Pharaoh with a plague, when G-d Himself prevented him from acceding to Moses' demand?
Our commentators explain that during the first five plagues Pharaoh had free will to decide his actions, and he could have permitted the Jews to leave. It was only after Pharaoh demonstrated his wickedness and rebelled against G-d--"Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice?"--that his free will was taken away. This punishment clearly fit the crime: Pharaoh questioned G-d's authority and boasted of his own might, so he was shown that he did not even have the power to make his own decisions. Pharaoh was thus fully subjugated to the will of G-d.
Furthermore, Pharaoh's behavior during the plague of locusts underscored his impotence. When even his servants begged him to free the Jews--"Let the people go so that they can serve their G-d. Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?"--Pharaoh immediately agreed and declared to Moses and Aaron, "Go worship your G-d." But at that very instant G-d hardened his heart and Pharaoh was forced to renege on his promise.
Even with this explanation we are still left with a philosophical problem. Why did Moses and Aaron have to go through the motions of issuing a formal warning if they knew that there was no chance that Pharaoh would agree to their request?
It is explained in the book of Tanya, the central work of Chasidic philosophy, that even a person who is so sunken into evil ways and so deplorable that "he is not provided with a means to do teshuva (repent)," even he can overcome and find his way back to righteousness. Even the most corrupt and abominable sinner can return to G-d.
If Pharaoh, totally self-centered, wicked and deprived of his free will could have prevented the final plagues from befalling his nation by exerting supreme effort to overcome the hardening of his heart, how much more so is it possible for every Jew to overcome his negative character traits and do teshuva.
A Jew's G-dly soul is termed "an actual piece of G-d," and is in his possession always, for the Jewish soul remains faithful to G-d even if the body commits a sin. A Jew always has the power to do teshuva, to return to G-d and live in harmony with his true essence. G-d awaits the return of every single Jew, for he can only sin externally, as his internal nature is untouched and holy.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE FRIENDLY RABBI AT BEN GURION AIRPORT
by Baila Olidort
He drives around in a Chevy van painted in artsy, colorful '60s style, with slogans in Hebrew and one in English that reads "Love Your Fellow Jew." As he makes his rounds from one hangar to the next, checking with this mechanic about the health of his son, and with that technician about his new house, there's no doubt that "Rabbi Nachman" as the airport personnel call him, would win any popularity contest among the 11,000 employees of the Ben Gurion Airport.
Back in the building, at the end of a row of offices of managers and administrators, is the administrative office of the Chabad Center of Lod Airport. It's nothing more than a small room, lined with Jewish books, a desk in which Rabbi Nachman keeps yarmulkas, mezuzot, tefillin and stacks of brochures and Jewish literature. And of course, paper cups and some bottles of soda which Rabbi Nachman pulls out of a bag for anyone who'd like a drink.
Although it's cramped, for Rabbi Nachman things couldn't have worked out better. This is, he explains, the very best spot in the entire airport for the purposes of his Chabad Center. Being the last of a long row of offices, his has a big window facing the main corridor through which all airport personnel pass as they come and go. And they don't go very far if they haven't stopped in to put on tefillin.
Every day, during their lunch break or some free minutes, about 150 airport employees make their way to this little room. Most come in to put on tefillin, others, having done so at home, come to buy a mezuza, pick up some yarmulkas, some Shabbat candles, or just to chat with Rabbi Nachman about the latest miracles in Israel. "Here's where we come to get a different perspective on what's happening around us," says Amnon Cohen, the chief electrician in the airport as he unwraps the tefillin from his arm.
While Rabbi Nachman helps an El Al accountant with his tefillin, the phone rings. It's somebody from the airport police calling to find out about the new mezuzot. "The airport police wants to change all the mezuzot in the police building. They want better mezuzot, "Rabbi Nachman tells me. "The Gulf War has really shaken people up here, and there's been renewed interest in Judaism that is really incredible," he explains.
Rabbi Nachman checks his watch. It's 2:40 p.m. and an El Al flight is checking in departing passengers. He finishes with the last few airport personnel and dashes through the terminal building to the "Departures" area, where only those holding boarding passes are admitted. Rabbi Nachman is waved in by security.
Here, near the duty free shops, only a few feet away from the H. Stern Jewelry concession, where departing passengers browse as they wait for their flight's boarding call, is the Chabad Center that serves people from the most diverse places in the world. More like a kiosk, travellers stop here to read and collect Jewish literature in about 10 languages, have a hot cup of coffee, and discover something about the Chabad Center in their own hometown. It is also where one woman, on her way to Brazil for a nephew's Bar Mitzva, bought a pair of tefillin at the last minute. Though the Chabad Center does not stock tefillin, Rabbi Nachman, by a stroke of luck, happened to have one new pair on hand.
In 1979, Rabbi Nachman Maidancik and a couple of Lubavitcher students would come to the airport with some pairs of tefillin and a bag of literature. The airport personnel began to expect their daily visits, and eventually, a permanent Chabad Center was established. "This place wouldn't be the same without the Chabad Center," says one airport employee. "This is where we come for our daily dose of oxygen and fuel." Of course, this kind won't make the planes at Lod Airport take off, but it does make for a smoother flight; Ask the pilots.
Reprinted from Lubavitch International.
Reaching Out, a monthly educational bulletin for Jewish inmates has just completed its second year of publication. The four-page newsletter contains information about the holidays, mitzvot, and letters and questions from Jewish inmates. If you know anyone who would like to receive Reaching Out, please write to: Reaching Out, Lubavitch Youth Organization, 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213.
CHABAD IN EDMONTON
Rabbi Ari and Rivka Dreilich
A new Chabad Center opened recently in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Rabbi Ari and Rivka Dreilich will help serve the needs of the Jewish community there with classes, holiday programs, summer camp, and Shabbat programs.
Imagine what the world will be like when Moshiach comes! This thought has been presented as a challenging composition theme to children under the age of Bar and Bat Mitzva. A composition contest was initiated by Tzivos Hashem and the deadline has been extended to February 18. The winner will be flown to Israel and will deliver all of the contest entries to the holy Western Wall in Jerusalem. To receive a brochure discussing the topic of Moshiach in easy terminology, send a SASE to Imagine, Tzivos Hashem, 332 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213. Compositions can also be submitted to the above address.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I was pleased to be informed about your steady advancement in matters of Torah, called Torat Chaim [the Torah of Life], because it is the Jew's guide in life, and also Torat Emet [the Torah of Truth], because it is the truth. This is doubly gratifying inasmuch as persons of your standing have an impact on the community, for people look up to you and try to emulate you. Thus, your going from strength to strength in matters of Torah and Mitzvot is greatly multiplied through those who are inspired by your example, not to mention direct impact on children and through them on their children in an everlasting chain reaction.
In light of the above, even if there are some difficulties to overcome, it is surely worthwhile to make the effort, inasmuch as the effort involves only the individual, while the benefit is for many. Add to this also the fact that this is also the channel to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, and that G-d rewards in kind and in a most generous measure.
The above refers to all matters of Torah and mitzvot, but has a special significance in regard to kashrut. As a doctor you know the immense knowledge that has been accumulated recently in the area of nutrition and diet, and how much the quality of food affects physical and mental health. For Jews the Dietary Laws have come down with the Torah itself, which revealed the true meaning of monotheism, of which the Jewish People have been the bearers ever since. It was relevant not only in those days of old, when paganism and idolatry were the general practice in the world, but it is just as relevant in the present day and age, since it is only the Torah and mitzvot that are the basis of pure monotheism, rooted in the absolute unity of G-d. This means that the Jew brings unity and harmony in this, the physical world, eliminating any departmentalization in the daily life, or having occasional practices; or, as some misguided and misconceived individuals might think, that they can practice Judaism at home, but must make concessions and compromises outside the home. All such differentiations are contrary to true unity, pure monotheism. For the concept of pure monotheism is not confined to One G-d, but at the same it requires unity in the personal life of each and every Jew, who is a member of the One People, of which it is said that it is "One People on earth." According to the explanation of the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, "One People on earth" means that they bring oneness and unity also in earthly things, and it is only in this way that the individual can achieve complete personal harmony and unity of the body and soul, at all times, whether in the synagogue, at home, or in the office.
Thus, it is obvious how important kashrut is for a Jew, since the food and beverages that he consumes become blood and tissue and energy, and food that is not suitable (kosher) for a Jew can only alienate him from matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], and only the right and kosher food can nourish him physically, mentally and spiritually. As already mentioned, there is no need to elaborate on this to you, a physician, although your specialty is not directly in the field of nutrition.
The most desirable blessing that can be expressed in this case is that you should indeed serve as a living and inspiring example for others to emulate, and that through your inspiration many others will go from strength to strength in matters of Torah and mitzvot in daily life.
May G-d grant that you should always have good news to report.
What is Shabbat Shira?
Shabbat Shira--the Sabbath of Song--occurs next week, January 18. Shabbat Shira is named for the special song read in the Torah portion (Beshalach) that week. The song was sung by the Jewish people after escaping the Egyptian armies by miraculously crossing the Red Sea.
Exile. For, it is the Shabbat on which we read the Torah portion Bo, describing the Jewish people's redemption from Egypt.
In many places it is explained that the first exile of the Jewish people in Egypt, and their subsequent redemption, is the prototype of each future exile and the ultimate redemption which we avidly await, may it come now.
Just as in those days, we were brought out of Egypt with wonders and miracles, so too, when we merit to witness the Final Redemption, will we witness events and wondrous happenings that are miraculous beyond imagination.
But wait. Three times each day, in the special Amida prayer, we thank G-d for His miracles that occur every day and His wonders and kindnesses that occur each moment.
In truth, we don't need much of an imagination to realize that miracles and wonders do happen to each one of us, every moment of every day. Months ago, the Rebbe stated that the Hebrew letter equivalent of this year (5752) stands for "The Year of Wonders in Everything." Now more than ever, we need only open our eyes, open our hearts, open our minds, and we will see that everything around us is truly miraculous, especially that which we've come to take for granted.
A few cells are miraculously coded to grow into a baby. Scientific breakthroughs allow billions to live without the fear of diseases which only a century ago ravaged entire communities. A satellite connects millions of people around the world for the ultimate "publicizing the miracle" of Chanuka. We can fly anywhere in the world, not necessarily on the wings of eagles but in the comfort and relative safety of metal birds.
What seemed far-fetched and impossible, something which could only be termed miraculous a few generations ago, has become commonplace. But because many things have become mundane and routine they are no less wondrous. Let's all open our eyes and see the miracles and wonders happening all around us. Perhaps through this very special kind of exercise we will merit to see the greatest miracle of all--the revelation of Moshiach.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Even at a very tender age Yosef Yitzchok had a fixed daily schedule, and he had great satisfaction keeping his affairs in order. At eight o'clock in the morning, Yosef Yitzchok jumped out of bed, and half an hour later he was in the synagogue davening (praying) with the congregation. From 9:30 until 10:00 was breakfast. Then, for four hours Yosef Yitzchok studied in yeshiva. Then came lunch for an hour and another hour devoted to writing. From 4:00 until 8:00 there was yeshiva again, then supper and some free time to spend in his room, before retiring to bed. Quite a schedule for a little boy of five!
Shabbat, of course, was different. Most of the morning was spent in the synagogue in prayer. In addition, he had a special treat, a visit to his grandmother, Rebbetzin Rikva. There he would find the elder members of the Chasidic community, white-bearded chasidim who came to pay their respects to the "Grand Old Rebbetzin." They would stay for a while and relate stories about the lives of older chasidim or even of the Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok's grandfather, himself.
When everybody went home to eat the Shabbat meal, Yosef Yitzchok went back to the synagogue. There all the worshippers had long since finished their prayers and gone home--all except his father. He sat with his head near the Holy Ark. He was still praying. Yosef Yitzchok approached his father quietly in order to listen to his prayers. His father davened very slowly, as if he were counting the words. Sometimes he paused, and then would slowly continue.
Yosef Yitzchok wondered why it took his father so long to say prayers, which even he, a boy of five, knew so well and could read so fluently. But his heart throbbed as he listened to the soulful melody which his father hummed now and again, and the singsong of the words. Once, Yosef Yitzchok asked his uncle, Rabbi Zalman Aaron, his father's brother. "Why does Father daven so slowly?"
His uncle smiled as he answered with a twinkle in his eyes, "Your father finds it difficult to read the words from the prayer book very quickly. He has to say each word separately, and can't daven very fast. That's why it takes him so long."
Yosef Yitzchok turned away without saying another word. But he felt a deep pain and a burning shame that his father couldn't daven more fluently.
The following Shabbat, Yosef Yitzchok silently approached his father and listened carefully. His father was saying the Shema. "Shema Yisroel..." His father said slowly, then he paused. Yosef Yitzchok was startled to hear his father sobbing. His father said another couple of words, and sobbed again, and when he said "Hashem Echad--G-d is One" the words seemed to burst from his heart, with a flood of tears.
Yosef Yitzchok couldn't listen any more. His heart was bursting with pity for his father. He went home, and with tears in his eyes, appealed to his mother, "Mother, Father is crying in the shul. Why does he daven so slowly, and why is he crying? Come, see for yourself. I can't bear it."
"There is nothing to be worried about," Yosef Yitzchok's mother consoled her little son. "Go to your grandmother and tell her about it. She is a very wise lady, maybe she will be able to explain it to you."
Yosef Yitzchok lost no time and went to his grandmother, certain that the wise, old Rebbetzin would find a remedy to help his father learn to read the prayers more quickly, perhaps even as quickly as all the other Jews in the synagogue.
When he came to his grandmother, Yosef Yitchok told her about his poor father's difficulty saying the prayers. "Mother said that you could do something about it," he concluded hopefully.
Grandmother looked at him seriously and said, "Your father is a great chasid and a tzadik. Before he reads any word from the prayer book, he thinks about it carefully. What it means and to Whom he is saying it. And when he thinks about the holy words of the prayers, his heart is filled with love for G-d, just as a son loves his dear father who is near and yet far away. So your father longs to be closer to Him and the tears just come. I cannot tell you more now, but when you grow older you will understand this better, and you will know how it feels."
With his grandmother's explanation, Yosef Yitzchok felt as if a tremendous weight came off his heart. So it wasn't that his father couldn't read the prayers quickly. It was because his father was such a great person that he davened differently. Yes, he realized that his father was different, in the way he spoke, the way he acted, the way he studied, the way he prayed. That very day, Yosef Yitzchok resolved that as the only child of such a great person, he too must act differently, to merit being his child.
Yosef Yitzchok's father, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, became the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Upon his passing, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok became the sixth and previous Rebbe
And in order that you may tell in the ears of your son...and you shall know that I am G-d (Ex. 10:2)
How can a parent imbue his children with a sincere faith in G-d? "You shall know that I am G-d"--you yourselves must believe in G-d first, before you teach your offspring.
(Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach)
They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place (10:23)
The worst kind of darkness that can exist is when a person does not see his brother or extend his hand to help the needy. When one ignores his responsibilities and makes believe that the problems of others don't exist, the end result is that he himself will suffer and not be able to rise.
And you shall eat it in haste (12:11)
Why the big rush when the Children of Israel finally left Egypt? Didn't their extreme haste give the mistaken impression that they had to escape quickly? Pharaoh actually wanted them to leave at that point. They could have taken more time to pack and depart at a more leisurely pace. However, leaving Egypt was not a mere geographical move for the Jews; it was a moral step in the right direction. It was a step away from the world of spiritual degradation they had become accustomed to in Egypt. When a person desires to sever his connection to evil, it must be done all at once and not gradually. A person must grab the first opportunity that presents itself to escape from a negative influence. However, when Moshiach comes and reveals himself we will not be so hard pressed to leave the Exile immediately. G-d has promised to remove all impurity from the world, so there will be no reason to run away from evil.
Moshiach will have the unique gift of understanding and persuading each individual despite the wide diversity in people's minds and attitudes.
(Rambam and Yalkut Shimoni)