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New Jersey has started a $25,000,000 project of pothole repairs on its highways and by-ways. New York state has a special number to call and monetary incentives for reporting potholes.
Potholes aren't great for our cars, or for buses, trucks, motorcycles or bicycles, for that matter. Which is why these states are trying to clean up their pothole acts.
But what about the potholes of our lives -- life's little (or big) ups and downs and jolting, gaping holes that make us notice that life isn't easy and effortless?
We are told that our ancestor Jacob "wanted to live in tranquility." And that's precisely when things started happening. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, a famine started in the entire area where Jacob lived, and his life was anything but peaceful. Instead of spending his old age pleasantly studying Torah and doing mitzvot, Jacob was involved in all kinds of trials and tribulations.
Was Jacob's desire to live tranquilly so terrible that he deserved such punishment?
That's what we grow up thinking life will be someday if we work hard enough and basically live moral, ethical, healthy lives. And Easy Street doesn't have any pot holes, no ups or downs, nothing that isn't pre-planned (by us) and scheduled into our itineraries.
But G-d has different plans for us. Because our purpose here in this world is to improve ourselves and the world around us, to help others and thereby ultimately help ourselves. To do good and to make the world good. And to accomplish all of this, life has potholes. Life has downs so that we can stretch ourselves and pull on reserves of strength, fortitude and energy that we never knew existed or could exist except for the fact that we were jarred by one of life's potholes and forced to call upon that energy.
Jewish teachings explain that life has its downs and ups. This doesn't mean life has ups and downs, that we must expect the "wheel of fortune" to change and if we have been on top we must eventually hit the bottom.
Downs and ups means "a descent for the purpose of an ascent" -- that no down is meaningless, no pothole is put in our path unintentionally. The opposite is true. A descent or difficulty is put in our path not as an obstruction or obstacle but as a challenge to overcome and there by become stronger.
Jacob had reached a pinnacle in his Divine service, in his refinement of his self and his soul. But a Jew never rests. No matter how righteous or elevated, no matter how much we have stretched and extended ourselves, there's always more room for growth, another nook or cranny to clean, another character trait or attribute to further perfect.
Because with each up that has followed a down, we've reached a new level, we've moved from a dirt path to a paved single-lane street, to a two-way road and then on to a four or six or eight lane highway.
So, the next time you drive into a pothole, see it for what it really is.
The two Torah portions that are read this week, Acharei and Kedoshim, share a common theme: holiness.
Acharei begins with a description of the most sacred service performed throughout the year: the Yom Kippur service, rendered by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, the Holy of Holies the most sacred place on earth, and the High Priest the embodiment of the highest spiritual level a Jew can attain.
Similarly, the second Torah portion, Kedoshim, begins with the commandment, "You shall be holy because I am holy."
How are we supposed to attain such elevated levels of holiness?
The answer lies in the above-quoted words: "Because I am holy." Because G-d is holy, and because every Jew possesses a Jewish soul, a "veritable part of G-d above," not only is holiness within our reach, but making sure that holiness is manifested in our daily lives is the obligation of every Jew.
The literal meaning of the word "acharei" is "after."
"And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they came near before G-d and died." Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu were so desirous of cleaving to G-d that their physical bodies became superfluous; consequently, their souls left their bodies.
However, lest we conclude that attaining such an elevated state of holiness is the ultimate objective, after which there is nothing left to do, the word "acharei" comes to remind us that there is much work for the Jew even after he has reached the highest of spiritual levels.
A Jew is never static; he must always strive upward, no matter how much he has already attained. There's always a higher rung on the ladder, another way of introducing sanctity into his daily existence.
From where do we get this power?
From G-d's command: "You shall be holy because I am holy." G-d's holiness is unlimited and boundless; no matter how sanctified a human being may be, there's always a higher level he can aim for.
This, then, is the lesson to be derived from this week's Torah reading: We must never be satisfied with our present spiritual attainments, but must always endeavor to attain ever-increasing levels of G-dliness and sanctity.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 12
Rabbi Epstein with a tour group in Crown Heights
by Rozanne Dittersdorf
This true story should be an inspiration to all those who do not believe in miracles.
I live in a suburban community on the North Shore of Long Island.
My mother, of blessed memory, was very ill in a hospital which was approximately one hour from Crown Heights. About two days before her death, although she was barely able to speak, she pulled me to her and uttered very quietly but emphatically, "I need a Rabbi."
It was nearly 10:00 p.m. and I did not know who would be able to come at that hour and who would hazard the drive as there was a blinding snow blizzard and most roads were virtually impassable. But I would not allow my mother's last wish to go unfulfilled.
I went to the telephone and called a local Rabbi whom I knew. He asked me if I had looked out of the window recently and observed how hard the snow was falling. I told him that I had not looked outside but assumed that since he was only about ten minutes from the hospital and that this was emergency, he would be on his way immediately. Much to my disappointment, my assumption was wrong.
For some strange reason (to this day I don't know why), I called the Lubavitch Youth Organization. When a gentleman answered I told him about my dilemma, to which he replied simply "tell me the address." I then went back to my mother's room and sat with her until she started to doze. I then went into the hospital corridor, looked up, and saw what I thought was a vision. Two men, dressed in their traditional garb, were coming toward me and I knew immediately that my mother's wishes had been granted. They may be too modest for me to give you their names but I must. It was Rabbi Kasriel Kastel and Rabbi Beryl Epstein. They spent time with my mother. I kept urging them to leave as I was concerned with their traveling in such horrendous weather, but they just continued sitting with my mother.
Unfortunately, shortly after that, my mother, of blessed memory, passed away. The funeral arrangements were made and Rabbi Kastel and Rabbi Epstein officiated at the services.
This was the beginning of my journey to find my Judaism again. I had it all of the time but these two Rabbis restored my belief that if you reach out to a fellow Jew, you do get a response. The Lubavitch people answered my prayers and I answered my own prayers by feeling like a Jew again.
I continue to grow with my Jewish identity and know that miracles do happen for those who do believe.
by Yehudis Cohen
On a rainy day in December I hailed a taxi to go back to my home in the heart of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. The taxi driver and I exchanged a few friendly comments after which I asked him where he was from, originally. (No taxi drivers in New York are originally from New York!)
"I am from Jerusalem," he said with a slight accent. As I opened my mouth to begin speaking to him in Hebrew he said, "I am a Palestinian."
An instant after the shock wore off I said, "Oh, then we are cousins, both children of Abraham, but you are from Ishmael and I am from Isaac."
With a smile of joy he nodded, "Yes, if only more people would notice what we have in common rather than what divides us. There are so many disagreements, so many fights. Why can we not concentrate on what unites us?"
"One thing that certainly unites everyone in the world is that we all want the Messiah to come, we all want peace, an end to poverty and sickness and death," I said.
"Yes," he agreed, "but look at the world. Do you really think he will come?"
"He will come. And we can help by doing what we can. We have to spend our time bringing goodness and light and positive energy into the world. That is what we can do," I said.
As we turned onto the street where I live the taxi driver said, "In Arabic we have a saying that we should live every day as if we have our whole life ahead of us but also as if it might be our last day."
I contemplated his words, thinking of the impact such an adage would have on people's lives.
"Yes," I agreed. "We just have to keep on trying to do good and act as G-d wants us. We have to bring more light into the world." There we sat in the car, two human beings. A Chasidic Jewish woman from Cleveland and a Palestinian Moslem from Jerusalem. And we were in total agreement. At that moment I felt as if I had just experienced a tiny glimpse of the world's long-a waited Redemption. The ambiance there in the taxi was of good will and peace, empathy and understanding.
If a Jew and an Arab can find common ground, can find the place where their two paths converge, so can every Jew with every other Jew and ultimately with the entire Jewish people, until the complete unification of the Jewish people in the Holy Land with the ingathering of all the exiles, may it happen imminently.
Make your space into a mini-Sanctuary:
G-d commanded us, " Make Me a sanctuary so I can dwell in them." This teaches that each home and every heart should be a sanctuary for G-d.
"Each person, man, woman and child, should transform his home and room into a place for prayer, Torah study and charity. A fixed place should be made where a prayer book, Chumash (Five Books of Moses) and tzedaka box are displayed as visible signs of these activities."
(The Rebbe, 26 Nissan, 5750)
25th of Tishrei, 5721 
I received your letter in which you discuss the question of your husband's trip, which has entailed certain difficulties, and you ask my opinion whether it was justified.
Let me begin with some brief introductory observations.
In the view of our Torah, which is called Torat Chaim, the Law of Life, and especially as emphasized in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidut... a husband and wife are not two separate entities, but are one.
And, as in the case of the physical body, when any part is strengthened and invigorated, it automatically adds vigor and strength to all the other parts, so, and much more so, is the case with a husband and wife who have been married "k'dat Moshe v'Yisrael," ["according to the laws of Moses and Israel"] the benefit to one is a benefit to both.
Therefore, there can be no question but that the benefit which your husband expected to derive from his trip, and I trust he unquestionably did derive it, will be fully shared by you and the rest of the family.
Another point is that the Jewish festivals in general, and those of the month of Tishrei in particular, have lasting benefits.
Similarly, the festival of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which are the Season of our Rejoicing, are not intended to bring true joy and inspiration only during these days, and when they are over they are forgotten. But their purpose and intent is that the Jew should draw from them stores of joy and inspiration to last him throughout the year and every day of the year.
The nature of such joy and inspiration, being connected with the Torah and mitzvot, is such that it truly permeates one's whole being and is the wellspring of a harmonious and happy Jewish life.
Add to this the fact that the state of mind is a powerful factor, not only in regard to one's spiritual life, but also one's physical and material life. For it is a matter of common experience that when one goes about his affairs in a happy frame of mind, with faith and confidence, he is bound to be more successful.
Applying all the above to your Jewish family life, it is well to bear in mind that at all times, and especially in our time, it is not a simple matter to set up a truly harmonious Jewish life.
A young couple inevitably experiences certain difficulties, trials, and sometimes even crises, chas veshalom [G-d forbid]. But when one realizes that these are only trials designed to strengthen the foundations of the home, which is to be an everlasting edifice (binyan adei-ad), and as the Torah states, "For G-d tries you to make known your love" etc. (Deut. 13:4), one appreciates them in their true perspective. For, in sending these difficulties and trials, G-d also provides the capacity to overcome them. Far from being discouraged by such difficulties, one considers them as challenges to be overcome, in order to reap the benefits that are inherent in them.
Finally, human nature is such that when one has various problems to cope with, it is more difficult to cope with them in isolation, and it is much easier to overcome them by belonging to an atmosphere and society which is permeated with the same approach and the same way of thinking. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why certain things in Jewish life require the presence of at least a minyan of ten people.)
After all the above observations, you should consider the fact that your husband has been given the very important function of being connected with the cause of chinuch al taharat hakodesh [a pure Torah education] and the general development of the Lubavitch House, which has great promise for the future. In addition, your recent settlement in -- also requires a special reserve of strength and capacities. The more one is equipped with faith in G-d, confidence and joy, the better one can cope with all these problems.
Your husband's visit here has brought him in personal contact with other young men similarly situated, and in some cases even with more difficult problems, and the mutual benefit derived from such contact is simply inestimable. Even if the trip entailed certain personal sacrifices on his part as well as on yours, they will be more than compensated by the benefits, and not only spiritual benefits but also in terms of material benefits, as indicated above.
I am sure it is unnecessary to elaborate further on this matter, knowing your background and understanding. I only want to emphasize again that the benefits from your husband's visit are bound to be shared equally by both of you, and your children, and may G-d grant that these benefits be even greater than anticipated.
SHABBAT FOR A THOUSAND
Shabbat for A Thousand is an ambitious project which is best summed up by its name. Slated for this weekend, the event will offer a traditional Shabbat meal, songs and plenty of spirit at the Mandella Room at Binghamton University.
The entire university Jewish community has gotten together in this joint effort to bring together 1,000 Jewish students to celebrate Shabbat together. The steering committee includes students from Chabad House, the Jewish Student Union, the Steinhardt Jewish Heritage Program and Hillel.
EXPO IN UNITED KINGDOM
The Great Jewish Children's Expo, which has toured many cities in the U.S. is currently on tour in England. The three cities hosting the expo are London, Leeds and Manchester. A main feature of the Expo is the Moshiach Exhibit and the hands-on Jewish life activities. Plans are underway to bring the Expo to South Africa and Australia this summer.
The 41st Annual International Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization takes place from May 16 - 19 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Join women from all over the world for this inspiring event. Call (718) 493-1773 or your local Chabad Lubavitch Center for more info.
This Shabbat we study the third chapter of Ethics of the Fathers.
In this chapter we read: "He [Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Everything is given on collateral and a net is spread over all the living; the shop is open, the Shopkeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow, let him come and borrow... and everything is prepared for the feast."
It is nearly five years since the Rebbe began telling us that everything is ready for the ultimate feast -- the feast of Moshiach when all Jews will celebrate together with our righteous and holy ancestors.
When the Rebbe began speaking about the fact that "everything is ready for the feast" he enjoined us to "open our eyes" and then we would see that everything is literally ready.
Since "action is the essential thing" and practical suggestions are always in order, it is always appropriate to reiterate one of the Rebbe's suggestions for "opening our eyes."
The Rebbe told us we should "live with Moshiach": we should try to imbue every facet of our everyday lives with the awareness of Moshiach's imminent revelation. Practically speaking this means that we should not wait until the time of the Redemption to modify our behavior but we should act now as if we are already living in the time of the Redemption. Now we should open our eyes and see another person for what he truly is -- a holy creation of G-d -- as the true essence of everything will be revealed in the Redemption. Today we should treat another Jew with love, banishing all thoughts of jealously and strife, as the Redemption will bring an end to jealousy and strife.
At this very moment we should begin to study or increase our study of Torah as the occupation of the entire world at that time will be only to know and understand G-d. Presently we should enhance our observance of mitzvot as this will bring us a closer connection to G-d.
Everything is prepared for the feast. Let us all be ready and primed for that historic event and that eternal era.
Akavya ben Mehalel said: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come near sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting..." (Ethics of the Fathers 3:1)
Reflect upon three things -- all three together. However, if you reflect on only one, or some of them, not only will they be ineffective, but such a meditation could even cause harm. If you reflect only on the first, you will come to the conclusion that you are not to blame for anything.
If you reflect only on where you are going you might mistakenly believe that there is no ultimate judgment and accounting. Therefore, we are told to also reflect on "before Whom you are destined to give an accounting." All three aspects of this mediation are dependent upon each other.
In addition to the obvious reference to the three concepts, this Mishna teaches a person that he must have three entities in mind and when he does so, he "will not come to sin."
Generally, a person thinks about two entities, himself and G-d, for "I was created solely to serve my Creator." We must be aware of a third entity, the world at large which was created by G-d for a Jew to use in service of Him, i.e., that a Jew through his service should refine his body and his soul, and spread refinement in the world at large, transforming it into a dwelling for G-d.
(The Rebbe, 13 Iyar, 5751)
Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest, said: "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive." (3:2)
Since men's opinions are not uniform, and therefore they cannot get on together, they eventually come to the state of swallowing one another alive. Preventing this terrible occurrence is possible only because of the fear of the government.
(The Rebbe , 5717)
Rabbi Shimon said: "... three who ate at one table and did speak words of Torah there, it is as if they had eaten from the table of G-d..." (3:3)
Three together can recite "let us bless," the opening phrase of the zimun, and in this way they form a pool of blessing so that each person partaking of the meal can draw off water according to his needs. But this must be preceded by words of Torah which enable them to form this pool of blessing.
(Tzemach Tzedek's Or HaTorah)
Reb Yoel of Tshopoli was the picture of a Chasid of yesteryear.
He was a disciple of the well-known rebbe, the righteous tzadik of Lechovitch. Reb Yoel was such a righteous person himself, that he was revered by Jews and gentiles alike. Indeed, his reputation as a saintly man had reached even the ears of the local squire.
And yet, his appearance was that of any peasant. He wore a rough sheepskin jacket and his simple, coarse pants were belted with a length of rope. It was only when one studied closely his ways that one could begin to grasp his greatness.
One day he received a summons from the squire, a man so wealthy and powerful that he commanded the entire region and owned most of the land for miles around. Why had Reb Yoel been asked to appear before him at the manor house?
On that particular day, there was a great celebration being held by the squire, and his house was filled with dozens of visiting nobles from all the surrounding villages.
In the course of conversation, the squire was telling his guests about the advantages he enjoyed from his many properties, and he mentioned that one of his leaseholders was a truly remarkable man, a Jew of great saintliness. The guests were anxious to meet this unusual man, and they wouldn't stop speaking about it until the squire agreed to call him to the great manor.
When Reb Yoel arrived attired in his usual, simple garb the squire asked him if he would like to change. Not that he minded, but he feared that his visitors, having imbibed a bit, would make some sport of the holy Jew.
"Perhaps you might want to tuck in those white strings sticking out of your pants," the squire suggested, pointing at his ritual fringes.
"Your honor," Reb Yoel replied, "I wouldn't dream of doing that. You see, these fringes are my very life."
Reb Yoel kept a beautiful white pony ready for the times he would make the trip to Lechovitch to visit his Rebbe. It was said that when he stopped to allow his horse to drink, Elijah the Prophet would appear to him.
One day Reb Yoel felt in his heart that he must visit his Rebbe -- his soul cried out for that spark of Torah insight which would ignite his being and elevate his service to G-d. Reb Yoel untied his little horse, packed provisions for the trip and set out for Lechovitch.
When he arrived, Reb Yoel dismounted and tied his pony to one of the iron pegs which stood outside the House of Study. He looked with longing at the beloved building and hurried to the front door. He could hardly restrain his excitement as he reached for the door knob, but he found the door fastened from the inside. Frustrated, he knocked forcefully on the door, saying in a loud voice, "Please, open the door!"
Another visiting Chasid who was relaxing on the porch of the Rebbe's house was startled by the sudden loud sound and called out, "Who is there?"
Reb Yoel responded, "It is I." From the other side of the door, the voice of the Rebbe was heard, "Where in the entire universe is there a creature that can say about itself, 'I' -- `I am G-d and no other': It is only the Almighty Himself Who can utter these words -- `I -- and no other!'"
When Reb Yoel heard these words, he turned on his heels, mounted his white pony and returned without a word to his home in Tshopoli. Those few words contained a teaching so rare and elevated that he had found what his soul yearned for -- a mean s of elevating his service to G-d, and he required nothing else.
A person studying Torah or fulfilling a mitzva should be aware of the effect of his action. It should be clearly apparent that he is now sowing something that will lead to an ultimate sprouting -- the coming of Moshiach.
(Likutei Sichot vol. 22)