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It's getting really sunny outside. Time to protect yourself before you meet head on -- or skin on for that matter -- with old Sol. Put on your sunscreen lotion and make sure the SPF is strong enough for the amount of ultraviolet rays you'll encounter. If you've got sensitive skin or are putting it on little children, use PABA-free sunscreen. And, don't forget about your eyes. You can lessen the chance of cataracts by wearing sunglasses with a UV screen.
Now that you've spent about fifteen minutes preparing yourself to go outside and making sure you're protected from the sun, let's talk about keeping kosher, or Shabbat, or any mitzva for that matter.
"It's such a hassle," some people complain. "There are so many rules and regulations to keep track of. When I eat (or rest, or celebrate the holidays -- you can add your own item to the list) I don't want to have to make a lot of preparations. I just want to do what feels good and right."
All of those Jewish rules and regulations are there to protect us from detrimental vibes in the spiritual environment. Yes, the sun can be beneficial, even life-nurturing. But too much of it, without the right kind of protection, can be deadly.
Of course, when we do mitzvot, we want to do them in a way that feels good and right to us. But, now that we know that ultraviolet rays cause skin diseases, most of us aren't foolish enough to soak in the rays without following the rules and regulations of the experts. And, anyway, once you get used to doing something a new way, that new way beings to feel good and right.
The Jewish "experts," our Sages and leaders who have spent thousands of years researching and studying the positive effects of Jewish living, have determined what we need, what our children need, and how to protect ourselves from the negative effects of the environment. Of course, all of this has been done with the help of the world's leading Expert in everything -- G-d!
If we're willing to go to such lengths to protect our body, which is only ours for 120 year max, shouldn't we at least go to similar lengths to protect our soul, which is eternal?
This week's Torah portion, Ekev, talks of the desert in which the Jews wandered before entering the Land of Israel. It is described as: "The great, terrifying desert, where there were snakes, vipers, scorpions and thirst. Where there was no water... "
The great desert symbolizes our long galut (exile). A desert, uninhabited by man, is symbolic of the Jewish people in relation to the other nations of the world. The uninhabited areas of the globe far outnumber the portions which are populated, in the same way that the nations of the world far outnumber the Jews. Furthermore, within the Jewish nation itself, those who observe the Torah and mitzvot are also vastly outnumbered by those who do not yet observe.
The Torah warns us that the very consideration that the outside world is "great" is the first step in causing our spiritual exile. Thinking that because we are outnumbered means that other nations have power over us creates the possibility that these non-Jewish influences can enter our lives.
The next spiritual step down is alluded to in the word "terrifying." This is the fear that the non-Jewish world will find out that we keep the Torah. This thinking causes a Jew to measure his behavior according to non-Jewish standards and increases the power of the galut over the Jewish soul.
The next level down is that of "snake." A snake's "hot poison" alludes to the heat and enthusiasm which a Jew can have for things which are really foreign to his essence. When a person's excitement is reserved solely for physical pleasures, h is enthusiasm for the spiritual is decreased.
From here, the next jump down is to the level of "vipers" -- saraf -- which in Hebrew comes from the word "to burn." This is the level on which a person's whole interest toward the satisfaction of his physical desires is so great that it completely overshadows any attraction to G-dliness.
But even worse than this is the level of "scorpion." A scorpion's sting is cold, symbolizing total coldness and indifference to holiness. Heat and excitement, even if directed toward things which are unworthy, can eventually be redirected into enthusiasm for holiness. But when a person is cold to everything, it is much more difficult to inspire him.
The lowest level belongs to the "thirst, where there was no water." G-d, in His kindness, sometimes causes a Jew to be thirsty for holiness and Judaism, but if one is very far from Torah (called "water" by our Sages), he may not recognize for what he is thirsting. This is the lowest level of our exile.
The antidote to the progression of spiritual degradation is the avoidance of the first pitfall, that of considering the world to have unnecessary significance. By having the proper mindset we will merit the Final Redemption.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson
Mordechai Gur Arye grew up in the Russian city of Yekatrinaslav. He was not an observant Jew, but after befriending the son of the city's Rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, and frequently visiting them in their home, he became strictly observant.
Mordechai was one of the top students in the city's government high school. His friends and teachers who noticed the change in him began to harass him. In every conversation, his teachers made sure to mention the baselessness of religion. But Mordechai remained firm, unafraid to display his observance openly.
Mordechai was not alone in his difficulties, for with him was his mentor, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak who supported and encouraged him.
Although Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was the official rabbi of the community, he was not permitted to hold any discussion of Torah with his congregants. And he was also absolutely forbidden to influence the younger generation to follow in their ancestors' ways.
But this did not deter Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. He used every opportunity he had to speak to the public about strengthening and preserving Judaism, even though he knew there were informers present who would repeat everything he said to government officials.
When Mordechai completed high school he decided to attend university, but was met with surprise; he was not accepted. He could not understand why the administration would not accept him even though he had excellent grades. He tried to speak with the head of the university, and was told: "Go ask Schneerson to help you, we can't help you in this matter."
Finally, Mordechai was accepted, but he was sent to a farm where the students worked and studied. Mordechai kept in touch with Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, in order to find out how to properly conduct himself in accordance with Jewish law in the various situations that arose.
The students at the farm were occasionally sent to the city to purchase supplies for the farm. All the students used the opportunity in the city to sell the produce of the farm and make money for themselves. But Mordechai had better use for his visits. He would inquire about the Jews of the city, and check to see what religious articles they were lacking. Every time he went into the city he took along his briefcase filled with mezuzot, tzitzit and prayer books. He distributed these to the Jewish residents in accordance with the instructions of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Of course, Mordechai did all of this secretly.
Each day Mordechai would don his tefilin and pray. While everyone else was asleep, Mordechai snuck out to the fields. There, between the tall corn stalks, he'd pray quickly, covering his tefilin with his hat.
Mordechai kept the secret of his observance so well that the authorities decided to transfer him to another agricultural settlement where they felt the intelligent youth would enlighten the ignorant villagers.
Everything went smoothly until one Chanuka evening, a Jewish inspector arrived at the settlement, and was shocked to find Chanuka candles burning. The very next day Mordechai was dismissed from his position and sent home.
Mordechai continued studying Torah and observing mitzvot. According to the law he was supposed to re-enter the university to continue his studies under surveillance, which he did.
During those days, Mordechai would sneak to the home of Reb Levi Yitzchak to pray or hear some words of Torah. One summer day, Mordechai went to a swim in the sea, and never returned...
The heads of the university wanted to make the funeral on the government's account. They sent a messenger to Mordechai's sister, a sworn communist who held and important position in a government factory. She excused herself by saying that her parents were traditional and she could not intervene.
She then hurried to Reb Levi Yitzchak and told him: "Mordechai's will is your will, whatever you say we will do."
The funeral was arranged in accordance with Jewish law. News of the tragedy spread, and people flocked from all corners of the city to accompany Mordechai to his resting place. The university also sent students and several teachers to the funeral, but they stood by the side.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began his speech at the funeral: "Mordechai, in his short life, showed us the path we should take. He did not care what his friends said or what the government thought. He paid no attention to those who sought to harm him. Throughout everything, Mordechai stood firm in his faith and observance."
The crowd was greatly agitated by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's words. They were surprised to hear of Mordechai's self sacrifice in distributing religious articles, and how he prayed secretly between the corn stalks. The rabbi roused the people, urging them to follow in Mordechai's path and not to forget their Father in Heaven.
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak stopped speaking, no one budged. The people were shocked that the Rabbi dared to speak the way he did, heedless of the authorities and their threats. "After such a speech, he'll no doubt be exiled for many years," they said to one another.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was not imprisoned at that time. Only three years later, in 1939, was he arrested, tortured, and then exiled. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak passed away on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Av. But they never managed to break the spirit of the great man who was the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
From Journeys with the Rebbes, published by Ufaratzta Publishing.
"A parent must educate his children from their earliest ages. This includes making his children aware that their mission in the world is to be a living example of how one lives in preparation for the construction of the Third Holy Temple, by performing certain activities -- such as giving tzedaka -- which will hasten the construction of that Holy Temple. And by being a living example and speaking to other children with heartfelt words, they will influence them to emulate their conduct."
(The Rebbe, 20 Av, 5751-1991)
LONG ROUND-ABOUT WAY
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5715 
You write that although you believe in G-d and His closeness, you are endeavoring to find your own way of serving Him. This is a long and round-about way. It is analogous to the person searching for the secrets of the functions of the physical body, e.g. how food is converted into blood, tissue, energy, and sustains life; it would surely not be the right approach to stop eating and drinking, pending his arrival at the conclusions of his study.
Even a reduction in necessary calorie intake would weaken his powers of reasoning and research and handicap him in his ever attaining his objective.
Similarly, in an effort to find a way of serving G-d, one must not postpone such service until one has completed one's search, and, moreover, the absence of the religious practice itself handicaps the powers of the intellect to grasp the truth.
Furthermore, since the human intellect is by its very nature limited, while the subject it desires to grapple with is related to the Unlimited, it is only with the aid of the Infinite G-d that one hopes to be lifted across the unbridgeable chasm separating the created and the Creator, and such Divine aid can come only through Divine service.
Finally, there is obviously no contradiction here to the principle of the freedom of personal choice. The real issue here is the proper approach and method to be undertaken now, until one has arrived at the stage where one's intellect becomes sufficiently clear to confirm the established truth.
The key to the solution is "Na'ase v'nishma," ["We will do and then we will understand"] where "Na'ase," practical religion in daily life, is the prerequisitive condition for "Nishma," study and understanding.
5th of Nissan, 5718 
I received your letter, in which you write about he problem of your daughter, Rivka. Judging by your description of her condition, it is somewhat surprising to me that she sees the doctor only once a month. However, I assume that you are in closer contact with him.
As for the question of making the trip to New York with your daughter to see me, I do not think it is advisable at this time, for it is impossible to foresee what effect this round trip might have on your daughter. However, what I do consider advisable, if it is possible to arrange without too much difficulty, is that your daughter should have a change of environment for a couple of weeks. This would have a beneficial effect on her, inasmuch as she would not be in contact with the people in whose presence she feels so sensitive, etc.
Needless to say, every additional effort on the part of all the members of the family in matters of the Torah and mitzvot, would bring additional blessings to the whole family and particularly to your daughter, who needs them most. It would be good to set aside every week-day morning, a couple of cents for tzedaka, and that you and your daughter personally drop the couple of cents into the tzedaka box, of course, there should be no compulsion. It would also be advisable to have the mezuzot checked...
TRIP TO C.I.S.
A trip to the resting places in the C.I.S. of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes has been organized once again this summer to coincide with the yahrzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Rebbe. The organizer of the trip, Rabbi Yitzchak Hecht, received a blessing from the Rebbe which included encouragement to bring people's requests for the blessings of these great Tzadikim to their resting places. Thousands of letters, via fax and mail from around the world, were received by the trip's participants and are being taken to the resting places of the Rebbes.
CHABAD HOUSE DEDICATED
A massive, new, $6 million Chabad Center was recently completely and dedicated at the Rutger University (New Jersey) campus. The facility will be used as a base for the multi-faceted outreach work taking place throughout the area.
The first and second paragraphs after the recitation of Shema Yisrael in our daily prayers are from last week's and our present Torah portion (Ekev), respectively. Both paragraphs enjoin us to serve G-d devotedly, and command us to observe the mitzvot of tefilin, mezuza, and teaching Torah to children.
Where do these paragraphs differ, then? The first paragraph is written in the singular form, addressed to the individual. The second paragraph is written in the plural and is addressed to the community. In addition, the second paragraph also includes mention of the reward and punishment for keeping the above-mentioned and other mitzvot.
Our commentators also explain that because of the wording of the commandment to teach our children, we understand that one refers to a teacher's obligation toward his students while the other refers to a parent's obligation.
Concerning the mitzva of giving our children a proper Jewish education , the lesson from this week's and last week's portion is clear. Both the individual and the community are obligated to fulfill this mitzva.
Parents and teachers both share the responsibility. We can do it for altruistic reasons or we can ensure a proper Jewish education for fear of punishment or because of the reward -- nachas from children, being honored at a dinner, etc. Whatever the reason, whoever the person, wherever the community, proper Jewish education for every Jewish child must be our number-one priority.
Surely this dedication to Jewish education will prepare us in an even greater manner for the imminent revelation of Moshiach.
So too Hillel used to say: "He who exploits the crown [of Torah for his own ends] shall perish." Indeed, you have learned from this that whoever derives personal gain from the words of Torah removes his life from the world." (Ethics 4:5)
In the Laws of Torah Study Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes that even a person who seeks to study Torah for his own aggrandizement should do so, because, as the Jerusalem Talmud teaches: "A person should always involve himself with the Torah, [even] for a selfish motive. For out of involvement for a selfish motive will come involvement for the sake of the Torah itself."
Rabbi Yishmael his son said: "A judge who refrains from handing down legal judgements [but instead seeks compromise between the litigants] removes from himself enmity, theft, and [the responsibility for] an unnecessary oath; but one who aggrandizes himself by [eagerly issuing legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant." (Ethics 4:7)
In a business dispute the ability to accept compromise is important, for it demonstrates that an individual is able to see beyond his own position and make concessions for the sake of another person. There are, however, certain matters, such as Jewish education and Torah law, where compromise must be avoided. For the Torah is eternal, G-dly truth -- containing absolute values that must not be mitigated by human notions of right and wrong.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 20)
Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said; " He who fulfills one mitzva acquires for himself one advocate..." (Ethics 4:11)
The simple meaning of this Mishna is that the performance of a mitzva crates an angel that will act as an advocate for the person in his final judgment. Nevertheless, the fact that the Mishna uses the expression "acquires" rather than "creates" implies something deeper.
In addition to the angel created by each mitzva he performs, a person acquires One advocate; the One becomes an advocate for him. For every mitzva a person performs, regardless of his intent, connected him to G-d.
(The Rebbe, Motzei Shabbat Eikev, 5738)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, expected all members of his household to be sparing when it came to the way they spent money. "Since my household is supported by the public, and our sages teach that the Torah looks askance at wasting Jewish money, it is only proper that we live frugally," he would explain.
One time, when one of his grandchildren came to him wearing an expensive belt, Reb Shneur Zalman questioned him, "Are you such a rich man that you should be wearing such an expensive belt?"
The grandson was silent so Reb Shneur Zalman continued interrogating him concerning money matters. "Tell me, how much money did you receive as a dowry?
"Two thousand rubles," answered the grandson.
"What are your plans for this money?" asked Reb Shneur Zalman.
"I am planning on giving it to a successful merchant. In this way I will be able to earn something on it."
"Perhaps," countered Reb Shneur Zalman, "he will neither return you your capital nor any interest?"
"That is impossible," argued the grandson. "This merchant is very wealthy and reliable."
"What difference does it make if he is wealthy now?" argued Reb Shneur Zalman. "The wheel of fortune turns. In time, he could become poor."
"What do you suggest I do with my money?" asked the grandson, hesitantly.
"My advice to you," said Reb Shneur Zalman seriously, "is to put the entire sum into this box." And with that, the Rebbe motioned to a charity box.
The grandson was certain that the Rebbe was joking. Two thousand rubles was a tremendous sum of money. He didn't think his grandfather was one to joke about such things, but still...
"I really mean what I said. I suggest that you give the entire sum to charity. In this way, the "capital" and the "interest" will remain intact. I am afraid that if you invest with some wealthy merchant, you might lose both."
The grandson heard what the Rebbe said and nevertheless, decided to invest his money with a merchant who was not only trustworthy and wealthy, but a scholar, too. Several months later, however, a fire destroyed everything the merchant owned and he was reduced to poverty.
Later, when the Rebbe asked his grandson how his investment had fared, the young man related the catastrophe which had befallen the merchant.
"Why didn't you listen to my advice and put the money in this charity box?" admonished the Rebbe. "Had you done that, then the capital and the interest would have remained intact. Why do my chasidim not trust the advice of their Rebbe? Let me tell you a story about the simple faith of the people of Volhynia."
"Once, in the midst of the bitter cold of winter, I was on my way home from visiting my Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch. I was nearly frostbitten by the time we reached a Jewish inn.
" 'How long have you been living here?' I asked the elderly innkeeper.
" 'For nearly fifty years,' he answered me.
" 'And are there other Jews nearby? Do you have a minyan to pray with, people with whom to celebrate the holidays?'
" 'Only on the High Holidays do I go to a nearby village to pray together with a congregation.'
" 'Why don't you live in that village so that you can be together with other Jews?' I asked.
" 'How would I make a living?' he questioned me.
" 'If G-d can find a livelihood for a hundred families, don't you think He can do the same for one more?" I asked him. I also happened to mention to him that I am a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch.
"He left the room immediately. Not more than one half hour later, I saw a few wagons parked in front of the inn, loaded with all kinds of household items and furniture. I saw the innkeeper near the wagons and asked him, `What is going on here ?'
"'I am moving to that other town, just as you told me," the innkeeper answered simply.
"You see what strong faith that old man had in my Rebbe?" Rabbi Shneur Zalman challenged his grandson. "I only had to mention that I was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and he dropped everything immediately, including his home and livelihood for fifty years. He was not even a chasid. And you heard from me twice that you should place the money in the charity box and yet you did not listen.
Moshiach will delight in the company of unscholarly, self-sacrificing Jews. A unique chamber will be set aside for them, and they will be envied by the greatest of intellectuals.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek)