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"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." "A rose is a rose is a rose." These two quotes are basically true, except when it comes to a rose, for instance, that somehow grows in the middle of a cornfield. For then, at least to the farmer, it's not a rose but a weed. And if it has lots of sharp, prickly thorns, it might be even worse than that!
The idea that something can be good, or positive, or appreciated in one situation but considered bad, or negative, or not respected in another is not only applicable to roses.
For instance, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, made the following powerful statement: "In material matters one should always look at one whose situation is lower than one's own, and thank G-d for His kindness. In spiritual matters one should always look at one who is higher than oneself, and plead with G-d to grant him the intelligence to learn from the other, and the ability and strength to rise higher."
Sounds like something your mother told you when you were a kid and wanted everything you saw in the toy store, or at least the same bike your next-door-neighbor had: "You can look up or you can look down," she might have told you. Her admonition and the Previous Rebbe's advice are sane counsel for these days of consumerism and kids-who-have-everythingism, aren't they?
It's important, however, to notice the Rebbe's emphasis on when you look up and when you look down. In material matters you should look at those who have less, and then you will be satisfied with what you have. But in spiritual matters you should look for guidance and direction toward those who have managed to develop and refine themselves and their relationship with the Divine more than yourself.
These thoughts are echoed in the response of Rabbi Shneur Zalman--the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch philosophy--to a young genius, famed for his intellectual gifts. But he takes them one step further: "Spiritual and physical are antithetical in their very essence," he told the student. "A superior quality in the physical is a deficiency in the spiritual. In material matters, one who is "satisfied with his lot" is an individual of the highest quality. A person possessing this trait can attain the highest levels. In spiritual matters, however, to be satisfied with one's lot is the worst deficiency, and leads, G-d forbid, to descent and falling."
A rose is a rose is a rose, except when it's a weed.
This week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, speaks about the mitzva of learning Torah, and contains the verse "...and you shall teach them to your children, to speak in them." In general, the mitzva of learning Torah consists of two separate commandments: The obligation each person has to learn Torah himself, and the obligation to teach Torah to others, especially one's children.
Although a person might naturally think that the mitzva of learning Torah oneself takes precedence over that of teaching others, we find that the opposite is true. Both Maimonides' writings and the Shulchan Aruch begin the section on the laws covering the learning of Torah with the duty each parent has to teach his children. Why is this the case? And furthermore, how can a person teach others before he himself is well versed enough in the subject matter?
We learn from the emphasis on teaching children the proper approach we must have when we begin to learn Torah, G-d's Divine wisdom and blueprint for the world. To understand this, let us examine the difference between Torah learning and the performance of mitzvot.
When a Jew does a mitzva he effects a change in the physical world, elevating and making holy the physical objects he uses in the mitzva's performance. The practical performance of the mitzva is therefore more important than the intentions and meditations of the person doing the deed, for the action itself serves to bring spiritual illumination into the world.
Torah learning, on the other hand, serves to refine and elevate the individual. When a Jew studies Torah his intellect becomes united with the G-dly wisdom contained in the Torah and causes him to be a G-dly person whose thoughts are those of holiness. The essence of learning Torah is therefore the humility and self-nullification one must feel before even approaching it to learn. In order to learn Torah properly one must have the sincere desire to understand G-d's wisdom without seeking self-aggrandizement or having other ulterior motives.
Before a Jew learns Torah he must subjugate his own ego and ask, what does the Torah itself want from me? Without this prerequisite, say our Sages, Torah learning can even be detrimental and become a "poisonous drug."
Emphasizing the duty to teach our children before we ourselves learn the Torah stresses that our goal is not merely the acquisition of knowledge, for the mind of a young child cannot possibly grasp the greatness of what he is learning. Our goal is, however, to cultivate and emulate the child's purity and innocence with regard to how he learns the Divinely written words. We must likewise approach the Torah in the same way, and not try to "fit" what we have learned into the preconceived, jaded view of the world we sometimes acquire as we grow older. All of us, no matter how old we are, are like young children to our Father in Heaven.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Marcia Schwartz
About five years ago my youngest son, then 24, traded in his motorcycle, ponytail and ripped-up jeans for a dark suit, a yarmulke and "learning." Thus, he began his new life--a life of "this I can't eat," "that I can't do," and "there I can't go." I had a black hat where my son used to be.
The tradition I handed down to my children was gefilte fish, kosher franks and borscht; staying home from school on the holidays; Chanuka lights and family Seders. Now I look back and I wonder: How did this happen, how did my son get here from there? I don't know. Sure, there were signs along the way. There was the eve of Yom Kippur when out of the blue--so it seemed--he ate alone so he'd be finished before sundown, while we held up dinner for one of his brothers who was late. He began to nod in the direction of keeping kosher by no longer mixing dairy with meat, by passing up shrimp and pork at the Chinese restaurant.
Nevertheless, he became engaged to a young Catholic woman, and they began planning their wedding. They'd keep everybody happy, have a rabbi and a priest. Part of that package was the Church's requirement of premarital counseling after which he said, "I think I'd like to find out a little more about where I came from."
He started out tentatively--really just wanted to get a taste. At first, he drove to his sessions with his new rabbi, until the day came when he decided he would no longer drive on Shabbat. And then he cut his hair. On went a yarmulke.
Gradually, the changes caused insoluble problems with his bride-to-be and they called the wedding off. He spent the next year in Israel.
Oh yes, things were changing, but not only for my son. I wanted him to be able to eat in my home, so I kashered my kitchen, and my other children became resentful. Relatives were patronizing and scornful of his scrupulous adherence to kashrut, his stark, distinctive dress, his strict Sabbath observance. "What can I talk to him about?" "Just be patient, it'll blow over." "These kids--it never seems to end, does it?" "But at least, thank G-d, it wasn't the Moonies!"
We were invited to a Saturday night wedding in Baltimore and drove down early Friday to get settled before sundown. We were staying at a hotel with the rest of the out-of-town guests that wasn't within walking distance of a minyan, so my son would spend Shabbat with an Orthodox family in the area. He wouldn't be at the prenuptial dinner.
What outrage! "Where's the other son?" "We're not kosher enough for him?" "Was he always a troublemaker?" But they were understanding about a couple who arrived on Saturday --they couldn't be there Friday night because of business obligations, and that was a reason.
My son stopped eating grapes. Did this have to do with a Jewish law we should know about, or was it just a whim? "What's in this?" he asked before every other bite. Were we supposed to guess it had to do with the blessing said before eating the food? I was nervous and my kids were angry and short-tempered with each other.
Well, you're so busy banging your head--what did I do to deserve this?--you forget about all the potent forces that went before, the strong bonds, the love right there beneath the surface. So one day I got a call from another son. "Mr. Talmud," as he called his brother, had come to his office on business they had together. "He walked in all yarmulked up," he said, "and I was really embarrassed. But then I thought, this is my brother. I love him. He's the one who's important, so why should I be embarrassed?"
Just as he was able to open himself to what he'd thought was his brother's meshegas, this son struggled with Yom Kippur and finally decided to observe it. It's something he wouldn't have done a short time before. Meanwhile, my eldest son transferred his children from a preschool where there were hardly any other Jewish kids to a school where they have a "Fridays are special" class. My seven-year-old grandson (who taught me to read the letters on the dreidel) was just named "Mensch of the Month" in his Hebrew school; his three-year-old sister waves her little hands over the candles and recites the blessing. So our family has something new--and old--going for it these days.
I'll never be as observant as he is--there's still too much I can't come to grips with. Yet I'm deeply affected by the beautiful spiritual and ethical life, the almost holiness of hospitality, the morality you can count on every time. Jewishness has become more wonderful to me, (I was thrilled when I was finally able to recite the blessing over the candles!), and has brought deep, rich textures into my life.
I've become involved with a wonderful group of other mothers of ba'alei teshuva ["returnees" to Judaism]. We talk over coffee about our ups and downs and a rabbi discusses Torah with us. (There's inestimable support in these groups. Seek one out, get one going, talk to your rabbi.)
We know our children haven't rejected us because they chose a lifestyle so different from our own. Our generation sought different routes to happiness and fulfillment. Just as generation after generation has done down throughout the ages, our children were searching for a better life for themselves and their children. And they found their answer in Yiddishkeit.
Reprinted with permission from Hadassah Magazine.
Riding on a New York subway can be an enlightening experience thanks to the Chai Foundation's latest poster. A close-up of the words "In G-d We Trust" from a dollar bill are part of the important message that this poster is hoping to bring out for Jews and non-Jews alike. A free brochure on the subject is also available simply by calling 1-212-CHABAD-1.
IS MAZAL TOV ENOUGH?
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health and care depend on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our declaration of dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. If you are expecting a child or know someone who is, you can get a free, full color print of the Psalm by writing to LEFJME-Expectant Mother Offer, 824 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213. Or call (718) 756-5720.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I received your letter which is an acknowledgment of my letter. I was pleased to read in it about your shiurim [study classes], and I hope that you make additional efforts from time to time in accordance with the precept of our Sages that all things of holiness should be on the upgrade.
Generally speaking, all the questions which you mentioned have already been answered in our sacred books, and those who continue to argue about them do so mostly either because of ignorance or mischief. Some people simply fear that if they accepted the Torah and mitzvot fully, they would be obliged to commit themselves in their daily life and conduct, and give up certain pleasures, and the like. Therefore, they try to justify their misguided views by futile arguments.
By way of example, I will take one question which you mention in your letter, and which apparently was impressed upon you as something complicated, but in reality the matter was discussed and solved very simply in our sacred literature. I refer to the question of how can man have freedom of choice of action if G-d already knows beforehand what he is going to do? The answer to this is simple enough as can be seen on the basis of two illustrations:
- Suppose there is a human being who can foretell the future of what is going to happen to a person. This does not mean that this knowledge deprives that person from acting freely as before. It only means that the knowledge of the forecaster is such that it is the knowledge of how the person will choose freely and of his own volition. Similarly, G-d's knowledge of human actions is such that does not deprive humans from the free choice of action, but it only means that G-d knows how the person will choose to act in a certain situation. To formulate this in scientific terms, we can say that the opposite of free choice is not pre-knowledge, but compulsion, for there is such knowledge which does not entail compulsion (as for example, knowledge of the past).
- Every believer in G-d, and not Jews only, believes that with G-d the past, present and future are all the same, since He is above time and space. Just as in the case of human affairs, the fact that Mr. X knows all that happened to Mr. Y in the past, this knowledge did not affect Mr. Y's actions in the past, so G-d's knowledge of the future, which is the same as His knowledge of the past, does not affect the free choice of human action.
From the simple solution to the above question, you can draw an analogy in regard to all similar questions and be sure that there is an answer to them, and very often a simple one. But the proper Jewish way is to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot without question, and then to try and find out anything that one wishes to find out about the Torah and mitzvot, but not, G-d forbid, make human understanding a condition of performance of G-d's commandments.
What was the reason for the custom, in ancient Israel, of Jewish girls going out into the fields to dance on the 15th of Av?
The 15th of Av is the day when the Jewish people were forgiven for their believing the evil report made against the Land of Israel by the spies in the desert. Since it was a day of forgiveness, it was considered an especially appropriate time for activities that would lead to marriages. Each girl wore a borrowed white dress so that no one would be embarrassed by her poverty. It was a festival whose activities--even its dances--were solely for the sake of Heaven.
Sabbath of rejoicing. We are hopeful that G-d will console us for the destruction of the Holy Temple and Jerusalem. The Haftorah portion for this week and the next six weeks reflects this theme of consolation.
This Shabbat is known by the special name of "Shabbat Nachamu" because we read the Haftorah portion which begins, "Nachamu, nachamu ami--Console, console My people."
Our Sages have taught that it is significant that there are seven Haftorah portions of consolation. The first consolers are the tzadikim trying to comfort Jerusalem upon her loss. But she will not be comforted. The second, is the patriarch Abraham. Again, the city will not be consoled. Next is Isaac, then Jacob and then Moses. Each time the city will not be consoled. The sixth Haftorah is Jerusalem's plea for consolation and finally, G-d Himself, consoles the Holy City.
According to the Midrash, the reason why the word "console" is repeated twice is that G-d is comforting us for the destruction of the first Holy Temple and also for the second Holy Temple. G-d's consolation and our comfort lies in the fact that G-d has promised us that there will be a third Holy Temple, greater than the first two. This will take place through Moshiach in the Messianic Era as the Rambam writes: "In the future time, the King Moshiach will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will rebuild the Beit HaMikdash and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel."
This year may we merit to have the true consolation which G-d has promised us all these years with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Many years ago in the village of Aziz in Israel there lived a poor family with a daughter named Rachel. The girlish happiness of a new dress was far out of Rachel's reach, but she had a fine character and a sharp mind which she used to help her beleaguered family.
One day Rachel and her siblings were outside when Rachel reached up to get a pot down from the top of the roof. Suddenly she lost her footing and slipped from the shaky wooden ladder. She came toppling down onto the stone pavement and struck her mouth on a rock. Her little siblings fluttered around her, but she calmly brushed them away and went into the house. Her mother heard the commotion and approached her daughter in alarm. After wiping away the blood, they found to their horror, that one of Rachel's front teeth had been knocked out.
This seemingly insignificant event caused her life to take an unhappy turn. Always a sensitive girl, Rachel suffered terribly from the teasing of her friends who giggled at the wide gap in her mouth. She no longer wanted to join with the other girls in their activities. Her despair deepened as time went on, and her distraught parents were at a loss of what to do.
Although they had barely enough money for food, Rachel's parents managed to gather enough money to make a false tooth. But the craftsman they hired was not very skilled, and the tooth didn't fit properly and was a dark color. Instead of improving her appearance, it made her look much worse. In her attempt to hide the tooth, she kept her mouth closed most of the time. She soon looked like a bitter, dejected old woman.
Time went by. All of her old friends married one by one; only Rachel was left without a suitor, for no one was interested in the sad, withdrawn, unsmiling girl. Her heartbroken parents knew that they must do something, but a dowry was far beyond their means and besides, no one wanted her.
Finally they came up with an idea. The girl's mother had a younger brother who lived in a village outside of Jerusalem. He was also poor and worked hard for a living, but he was a fine man and would make a good husband for his niece. Pleased with their idea, the parents sent a messenger to their relative, and he agreed to the suggestion. Although he hadn't seen his niece in many years he remembered her as a sunny, cheerful little girl.
He travelled to their home and stood expectantly at the door as he waited for someone to answer his knock. The door opened and a dishevelled, worn-looking woman stood on the other side. He was shocked to learn that this was his betrothed, and he flatly refused to honor his promise and left the town at once.
Finally word of the debacle came to the ears of Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha. This tzadik loved his fellow Jews, and was especially attached to the mitzva of helping poor Jewish girls get married. And when poverty was an obstacle he expended tremendous effort in helping them. His warm heart was touched by the tragic story and he summoned the girl's parents, offering to take Rachel into his home. "Bring your daughter to us, and my wife will take good care of her. I promise you that before long that young man will sorely regret having refused her."
So, Rachel went to live with this kind family who spared no effort to make her comfortable. For the first time in her life she ate nourishing meals each day, and was pampered with fine soaps and ointments. Her hair was groomed and festooned with stylish ribbons. Soon, her cheeks glowed with health and her newfound happiness radiated outward. Still, there was the problem of the tooth. Rabbi Yishmael ordered an expert craftsman to make her a new tooth, this time of gold. Rachel was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. In those days gold teeth were a mark of beauty as well as high station. Rachel couldn't help but stare at her reflection in the mirror, but it was hard to recognize the beautiful young woman who stared back at her.
The following week Rabbi Yishmael sent for the young man who recently had refused to marry her, saying, "There is a lovely young woman I would like you to meet. I think she would be a fine wife for you. Why don't you come and meet her and see what you think."
He was pleased to accept the proposal and lost no time in showing up at Rabbi Yishmael's house. When he entered the room and saw the attractive woman who sat next to Rabbi Yishmael's wife, a smile crept across his face, for he immediately recognized his niece, but she was completely changed. How could it be that the girl who had seemed so ugly and repulsive had now become so beautiful? His thoughts were interrupted by Rabbi Yishmael's voice saying, "Isn't this the same young woman you vowed not to marry?"
The man was caught off guard and protested, "I, I made a mistake. I would really like very much to marry her."
Rabbi Yishmael felt a sudden pang of sorrow, sorrow for all the other Rachels he was unable to help, and he responded softly, "I absolve you of the vow which you made by mistake. You may marry, and G-d grant that your years be filled with happiness and peace." And so it was.
Lest you corrupt yourselves and make a graven image (Deut. 4:16)
Why did Moses have to remind the Jewish people not to make graven images, considering the fact that they had just spent forty years in the desert and had seen all sorts of open miracles and wonders? Were they not already on such a high spiritual level that making a graven image would be unthinkable? From this we learn that an individual must never think that his worship of G-d is perfect and he is beyond temptation. One must be ever on guard, even against those sins which appear to have no attraction whatsoever.
Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One (Deut. 6:4)
Our Rabbis said: "Hear--in every language." One can accept the yoke of heaven in any language, not just in the Hebrew tongue. Likewise, in every object that a person sees and every sound which reaches his ears he must strive to see that "the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One." We can find G-d's greatness and absolute unity reflected in every single thing which occurs in the world.
And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart (Deut. 6:6)
"These words" of Torah should be always at the ready; all one must do is open up one's heart for a second and they will enter.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
On the eve of Tisha B'Av each year Reb Avraham of Chechanov would have to buy a new copy of Kinos--Lamentations. For every year, as soon as the mournful service was over, he would stow away his copy in the place where old and battered sacred books were lodged until they were buried. And each time he did this he would say: "I am sure that Moshiach will come this year, and then we won't have any further need for books of Lamentations."
(A Treasury of Chasidic Tales)