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Drawing a blank. Out of ideas. At a loss for words. We've had that feeling, been in that situation. In the middle of a conversation, our mind fades out. Just when someone says something stupid and we needed the perfect rebuttal. Or a difficult question was asked and we had the only answer but didn't know how to express it. That's when it happens, at a critical moment.
It often seems we zone out just when we should be in the zone. A deadline approaches and we fade out. Faced with a dilemma, we rack our brains, trying to force out the solution we know is there.
How frustrating to be lost, knowing the inspiration, the creative light, the Eureka and the Ah-Ha! are hiding, lurking somewhere in the recesses of our brain. If only we could find it.
The situation is as embarrassing as it is frustrating. We should know the answer. Often we draw a blank precisely when faced with an issue we've dealt with before. Any other time, we'd solve the problem without a second thought.
But now, we blank. We forget. It's like an actor who's played a role hun-dreds and hundreds of times suddenly forgetting his lines. Then everyone watching becomes uncomfortable.
Even in business, when everyone knows that we're "the man for the job" and we come up empty, others become concerned. We end up spreading a plague of uncertainty.
A shame, too, we feel them say, because he's usually so brilliant. So reliable. If she can't think of anything, maybe there is no answer.
So what do we do until inspiration comes - other than try not to panic? We retreat into clichés (like so many of the phrases above), falling back on the "tried and true." But they're not tried, just tired. And since the words don't work, they're certainly not true.
Indeed, when our minds have been void - empty and dark like the reaches of space - we treasure the more when the "light goes on" - when first we have a flash of wisdom, followed by the light of understanding.
Maybe that's why the icon for an idea is a light bulb. Turn on the light and inspiration flows. And as long as the source and destination remain connected - the generator produces electricity, the lines are up or cable open and the bulb intact - the light continues. We get in the zone, the ideas keep coming and suddenly we can see.
What happens, though, if we continue to draw a blank, if we get stuck and can't find the "light at the end of the tunnel"? The truth is, we're helpless; we can't do anything and have to rely on someone else. And if there's no one else to do the job, answer the question? Then it doesn't get done.
Now imagine if G-d drew a blank, even for an instant.
The flow of Divine Light suddenly stops. It blinks off - for a nanosecond. G-d has nothing to say, to speak; He's momentarily at a loss for words.
If that happened, everything would cease to exist, as surely as a room goes dark when the lights go off.
Fortunately, of course, thank G-d, G-d never draws a blank. He's never out of ideas or at a loss for words, as it were. The Divine Light consistently and continuously pours forth.
And this is the idea of continuous creation. Creation was not a one time event, but an ongoing, every instant flash of coming into being. "In His goodness He renews each day, continuously, the work of Creation."
This week's Torah portion, Tazria, deals with the laws pertaining to man - matters of ritual impurity and how to purify oneself after becoming impure. A discussion of these laws follows the discussion in previous chapters which pertain to animals - which are pure and which are impure, and animal sacrifices.
"The same way that man's creation took place after all the other animals and birds, so are the laws pertaining to man to be found in the Torah after the laws dealing with animals," our Sages teach.
The Talmud and Midrash offer several explanations as to why man was created only after very other creation was complete. One of them is so that man would arrive in a world ready and completed and be immediately able to perform mitzvot (commandments). A second reason given is that if man's behavior is not worthy and proper, one can say to him, "Even a mosquito was created before you, even an earthworm preceded you."
These two explanations express the dual nature of the essence of man. The first presents man in the role of the crown of Creation, for whom G-d prepared everything in advance. The second explanation stresses the relative unimportance of man as compared to all the other animals, to the point that even the mosquito came first.
The first reason stresses man's merit and is related to the soul every Jew. The second explanation, stressing the unimportance of man, relates to the physical body.
By virtue of the G-dly soul, which is literally a part of G-d, man stands on a level higher than all other creations. This aspect of man cannot be changed even if, G-d forbid, he sins. However, because of his physical body, man is concurrently lower than even a mosquito; an animal does not have free choice and can only carry out the function for which it was created. Man is the only creature that can chose not to carry out G-d's will.
Because man has the ability to lower himself below all other animals, the laws pertaining to him are written in the Torah only after the laws pertaining to the animals.
This contradiction in man's nature raises the question, "How is it possible to be, at the same time, on both a lofty exalted level and yet lower than all other creature?"
Man's subordinance is hidden within a great virtue. Precisely because of man's corporeal nature, he is able to fulfill the purpose of Creation. G-d's will is that the lofty soul should come down and "clothe itself" in a physical body, to elevate and purify the body. The purpose of creation is that man ("adam"), created from earth ("adama") should uncover and fulfill the potential of his soul and elevate his corporeal nature.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Just A Good Stretch Of The Legs!
By Steve Hyatt
As I went out the front door of our new house I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. I touched the mezuza on the doorpost and strolled down the sidewalk leading to the road that runs by the front of my house. After walking about three steps, my eyes began to tear up, my cheeks got bright red and my fingers felt like frozen hot dogs. "It must be 24 degrees out here," I thought to myself.
When my wife Linda and I moved to Reno, Nevada, we were fortunate to find a home that was located about two miles from the local Chabad shul (synagogue). Since we had never lived close to a shul before, I was excited about the opportunity to enjoy a brisk Shabbat walk to shul each week. Now it is not unusual for me to walk three or four miles when I exercise on my treadmill, so I knew a short two-mile walk to shul on Shabbat would be a piece of kugel. However, I must admit, I never walk on my treadmill in 24 degrees or when the wind is blowing like a small gale straight into my face. After walking another 100 yards I stopped and pondered the idea of turning around and driving to shul. "Who'd know," I asked myself. "You'd know," I answered without hesitation.
As I paused to consider my situation, my good friend Desmond Rothenberg suddenly popped into my mind. Des, as we like to call him, is the gabbai of the Chabad shul in Wilmington, Delaware. He's the guy that gets to shul early on Shabbat, makes sure all the seats are perfectly arranged, all the prayer books are neatly stacked on the bookshelf and the shul itself is ready for services.
During my last visit to Wilmington, I attended the Bar Mitzva of another good friend, young Dovi Vogel. It goes without saying that we had a wonderful time celebrating Dovi's special day. Relatives and friends from around the world came to hear Dovi lead the services, read from the Torah and chant his Haftorah. After an afternoon of celebration and joy, the sun finally set, the stars illuminated the sky and those remaining at the Vogel home participated in the Havdala ceremony to officially mark the conclusion of that Shabbat.
I had taken advantage of a great online deal and was scheduled to take a red-eye flight back to Nevada later that evening. As I was making my way to the front door I heard someone say, "It's late, can someone give Des a ride home?" I had about four hours until my flight, so I gladly volunteered. I assumed he lived nearby, since he has been the gabbai ever since I walked into the Chabad of Delaware shul many years before.
Des and I jumped into my rental car and started our journey. The first mile went by and then the next. After three miles I said, "Des, have we missed the turnoff, we've driven more than three miles?" He laughed and said, "Steve, it's right up the road." Two miles later, I asked again: "Des where the heck do you actually live?" He replied, "I live about two more miles up the road. Go to the second street light and turn right and we'll be there."
Incredulously I asked, "You live six and a half miles from shul and walk both ways every Shabbat?"
"It's just a good stretch of the legs Steve" he replied. When we finally pulled up in front of his house I said, "Des, do you walk all this way, through two states, when it rains and snows as well?" He laughed and replied, "Well, when it rains or snows I just walk a little faster!" I looked at him and shook my head in astonishment and admiration. We shook hands goodbye, wished each other well and parted company. As he made his way to his front door I was awestruck by his commitment. Every Shabbat he walks 13 miles round trip, and still manages to make sure the shul is perfect before the rest of the congregation arrives. I, on the other hand, complain if my tea is a tad bit cold!
The memory of this encounter bombarded my brain as I stood at the top of the hill in Reno feeling sorry for myself because my ears were a little frosty and the howling wind was mussing up my hair. I thought about Des and his unwavering commitment to his beliefs, his shul and his friends. Des' mantra "It's just a good stretch of the legs," was now my mantra. Inspired by his example I shrugged off the chill, blew on my hands and started down the hill. My body quickly warmed up. Arms and legs pumping like a member of the Chabad race-walk team, I found myself briskly covering the ground between my front door and the shul.
Before you could say, "Please pass the kugel," I was there. Greeting me was Rabbi Mendel Cunin, with a big smile and a warm, "Good Shabbos, Steve. I looked out the side window and saw you walking briskly to shul. Isn't it a wonderful day for a good Shabbos walk?" Thinking of Des I said, "It was a good stretch of the legs Rabbi."
After the morning services, Rebbetzin Sarah Cunin treated us to a sumptuous kiddush. While munching on herring, a thick, steamy chulent and assorted other delights, Rabbi Cunin asked me to talk about my walk through the early morning frost. I related my story about my good friend Des and everyone marveled at his dedication. At the conclusion of the kiddush I said "Good Shabbos" to one and all and made my way back up the hill.
I quickly found that walking down a two-mile hill is much easier than walking up a two-mile hill. Thanks to the spirit of Shabbat and my inspirational friend Des' example, I eventually made it home. About two months later I was leaving shul for my walk up the hill when a friend from Chabad stopped me and asked if there were any houses for sale in my neighborhood. I told him there were a number of very nice ones available at the moment. I reminded him that I lived about two miles away. He said that didn't bother him and if he found the right place we could walk to shul together. I wished him "Good Shabbos" and started up the hill.
I Will Show You Wonders
Originally published during the Gulf War crisis in 1991, I Will Show You Wonders is a compilation by Sichos in English, of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's public statements regarding the Gulf War crisis. The Rebbe's statements are as potent today as they were over a decade ago. For more information visit www.SichosInEnglish.org
Continued from the previous issue
From a freely translated letter dated 13 Sivan 5716 
...Imagine that you are in a massive building that has thousands of rooms; the furniture in each room is perfectly arranged. However, in one tiny room with strange furnishings, the sense of organization so obvious in the rest of the structure is not immediately apparent. Since the gigantic building and its thousands of chambers can be seen as part of an orderly system, undoubtedly the individual room and its unique furnishings are also part of the overall plan. Although the untrained observer may not at first understand the unusual pattern, with some thought he will come to realize that it must also be a part of the larger system.
I feel it would be superfluous to spell out the meaning of the parable. I just wish to add one detail: If each one of us, including you yourself, were to think over the events of our lives in whatever places and whatever happened, and we would look objectively, we would have to agree that there were tens and thousands of instances where we were led in a certain direction. Nevertheless, the Holy One desires that a person should do things of his own free will. He therefore allows each person the ability to choose his own path. It is therefore no wonder that being only human, there can be a few occasions when a person falls off the path and instead of the path being a straight one, there are some zig zags.
But if we give it thought and we don't fool ourselves we see to it that the number of zig zags should be as small and infrequent as possible. Then we arrive at the goal which the Holy One has set up for every person and particularly for each individual, that he should be truly happy with his family, even in worldly matters. We can come to this by conducting ourselves according to Torah which is known as the Torah of life. We need only be wary of the complaint which the Evil Inclination uses very often, pointing to a person who people believe to be frum and who conducts himself according to Torah and highlighting the deficiencies he has. The Evil Inclination thus wishes to demonstrate to the person with whom he is debating that since this is a person who conducts himself according to Torah and has these negative points then it must be that the Torah is no good, G-d forbid. The proof is that that person did this that and the other wrong.
This however is a falsehood in that he is showing only part of the person and not the complete individual. This is illuminated by a story.
If a person is walking in the street and meets someone leaving a medical specialist's office, and the person is using crutches, the passer-by could think that the specialist is not good. After all, this person visited him and paid him a lot of money, and is obeying all the doctor's instructions, and still he needs crutches! But if someone would explain to the passer-by that, before the patient was in the doctor's care, he couldn't move his feet altogether and was completely paralyzed. The doctor had reduced the paralysis, strengthened the patient and enabled him to use his feet and even to walk. As time goes on things are improving and it's getting easier, even though he still needs crutches. There may come a time, if he follows the doctor's advice, that he will get rid of the crutches and be completely healed.
The same is true for people. From when they are born they have different qualities. Some have more good and some more bad. Through education by good teachers, and above all through self improvement, if only it is done correctly, these bad traits over time become weaker and less effective. Since a person has to grow his entire life, it is no wonder that we can meet a person in the middle of the his work - his self training - and still find some of his negative qualities. This is not necessarily because he isn't following the instructions of the "specialist" in his training, rather that by every measure he has weakened and reduced his negative compared to how he was earlier on.
I want to end by expressing my intent in this letter. I don't intend this to be mere philosophy, rather to implant in you the idea that if you will want to apply your object and good intellect, it should bring you to strengthen your trust in Hashem and to look with a positive eye at the people around you in general and the inhabitants of __ especially, to see their positive points, which for the most part they worked hard to develop and to view their negative points, if their are any, in the way we discussed previously with regard to the temporary crutches.
Above all you must know that you must do your part to make light and to light up your surroundings, not only your own family, but to a larger group of people. This can be achieved by being permeated with ahavas Yisrael [love of a fellow Jew]. This will be beneficial to all and certainly is good and will achieve goodness for you and your family.
I hope you will read this letter with the appropriate attention. It is self understood that if you have any questions or lack of understanding, I will be happy for you to write about them and I will answer to the extent I am able, even if because of many obligations the answer may be a little delayed.
I feel also that the occasional delays are also an instruction: that you are being given additional time that of your own free will you should change your view of the people around you and of how one's conduct should steadily improve and the Alm-ghty should give you success
7 Nisan, 5763 - April 9, 2003
Positive Mitzva 132: Declaration when Presenting the First-fruits
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 26:5) "You shall speak and say before the L-rd" When the Jew presents his first fruits (Positive Mitzva 125, to bring from the seven kinds of foods with which the Land of Israel was spcifically blessed: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates) he is commanded to make a declaration. As he stands in the Holy Temple, watching his fruits placed near the altar by the priest, he gives thanks to G-d for His generosity. He relates a short history of the Jewish nation; how G-d took us out of slavery in Egypt and brought us to the holy land.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Parsha we learn of a leprousy-like disease. This disease afflicted a person, or his home or other possessions, when he indulged in slander.
When a person discovered that he suffered from this malady, he realized without a shadow of a doubt that there was an omniscient G-d who had been witness to his sin. The person was then required to shut himself off for seven days, in seclusion from the rest of society. These seven days were spent in introspection and consultation with the priest on how to atone for his transgression.
Speaking unfavorably about another shows a complete lack of "ahavat Yisrael"-love of one's fellow like oneself. Just as we certainly don't want others to notice or talk about our failings and foibles, we shouldn't talk about other people's faults.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when you see a fault in another person, that same fault most definitely appears-even if only in a minute amount-in you. For, just as you cannot recognize a person whom you never met, you cannot "recognize" a fault you do not have.
There is another teaching attributed to the Baal Shem Tov about slander and gossip. When you hear an uncomplimentary report about another person, even if you don't know that other person, you should be very deeply pained.
For, it can only be one of two things: if what is being said about the individual is true, then he is flawed and in need of improvement; if however, it is not true, then slander is being spoken and the talebearer is being harmful not only to the other person but to himself as well.
May we all only hear and say complimentary reports about each other, until we hear the final and most felicitous report of all, that Moshiach has arrived!
If a man shall have on the skin of his flesh (Lev. 13:2)
When discussing the phenomenon of leprosy and the various appearances such a plague could assume, the Torah uses the word "adam" (man), a term reserved for expressing man's finest attributes and characteristics. Why doesn't the Torah use any of the three other Hebrew words for man - ish, gever, or enosh? The plague of leprosy appeared only "on the skin of his flesh" - on the most external part of a person. Years ago, when G-d afflicted someone with leprosy as a punishment for his deeds, it affected only his most external self, for the inner person was spiritually healthy and not deserving of punishment. Nowadays we have no such phenomenon, as the Biblical leprosy differed from the modern-day disease bearing the same name. In our time, it's not just the external part of ourselves we must work on and purify.
When a woman conceives and gives birth (Lev. 12:2)
The potential contained within a seed is virtually limitless. When properly nurtured, a seed will develop into a mature tree, which, in turn, will yield more seeds with the potential for growth and regeneration. Our service of G-d must be performed in a similar manner. A good deed must not be self-limiting; a Jew must always strive to ensure that his actions have far-reaching effects, bearing fruit in the next generation as well.
(Likrat Shabbat, #22)
He shall be brought to Aaron the kohen or to one of his sons the kohanim (Lev. 13:2)
Only a kohen (priest) was allowed to determine whether or not a plague was leprous, a severe affliction necessitating that the sufferer to be sent outside the camp for seven days. Only a kohen, whose job is to bless the Jewish people with the priestly blessing, could fully appreciate the magnitude of being sent outside the warm and loving Jewish camp. He could therefore, be relied upon to try all possible means to pronounce the individual clean.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The wedding took place amidst great rejoicing, and the young couple was the picture of happiness. Yet, not long after they were married, the bride began to suspect that something was not right. Her husband would wake at midnight to recite the prayers in mourning of the destruction of the Holy Temple. Every day at the crack of dawn, he would immerse himself in the mikva. And in addition to these strange practices, he had a certain book he loved to read which he kept hidden under his pillow.
The young bride, disquieted by her husband's unusual devotions, described them to her father, who decided to investigate personally. Entering the bedroom, he lifted up the pillow; the shock of his discovery was worse than anything he had imagined. His son-in-law was studying the book Toldot Yaakov Yosef written by one of the leaders of the Chasidim of the Baal Shem Tov!
The father-in-law was determined to dissuade the young man from pursuing this ruinous alliance with Chasidism. He tried every approach, but to no avail. Finally, when he saw that the young fellow couldn't be budged, the distraught father insisted on a divorce. But this extreme reaction was vetoed by both the husband and wife, who were, in all other respects, quite happy.
What could be done? At his wits end, the father sought advice from his friends in the small town, all confirmed opponents of the new "sect." The suggestions brought forth were many, but in the end there was more smoke than fire-the resolution to the problem eluded them all. The debate not only continued, but became, in fact, so bitter and angry, that news of it reached the ears of the governor of the region, a retired army officer. Curious about the cause of the great brouhaha, the governor's interest intensified when he heard that it was all because of a book. It was explained to him that the book in question was authored by one Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye, a man who led his co-religionists "astray" by his erroneous teachings. The governor went so far as to procure the said book and check the authorship, as this information was also printed in the Russian language. Having satisfied himself, he summoned the whole group of disputants and their fellow-travelers to appear before him.
"The time has come," he said, "for me to tell of events which took place one spring many years ago when I was serving as a colonel in the Polonnoye district. It happened that my unit had orders to move out, and so, the customary roll call was taken, only to discover that three soldiers were missing. I sent two others to the adjacent town to find them and bring them back. But they returned without their lost comrades, telling a most incredible story. The missing men were discovered inside the candle-lit home of an aged rabbi, standing like wax statues, unable to speak or move. I found it impossible to believe such a tale, so I dispatched another detail of men; but they returned with the same story. The only thing left to do was to go myself, and that is what I did.
"Entering the house, I saw an old man with the angelic appearance of a saint. When I dared, I addressed him, 'Forgive me for interrupting; I see you are a holy man. But these soldiers must leave with their unit today. Please allow them to leave your house.' The old rabbi replied, saying, that these men must have stolen something. If they replaced the items, they will be free to depart. Sure enough, we discovered all manner of silver vessels secreted in their greatcoats. We removed them and they were freed."
These events occurred on the first night of Passover at the home of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef. The roaming soldiers had entered the unlocked house, helped themselves to the remaining holiday food, and then also the silver vessels. They were undeterred by the presence of the old man who, in any case, seemed to be asleep. But when they tried to leave, they found themselves rooted to the floor and struck dumb.
The governor continued, "But when I saw this miracle, I requested from the rabbi his blessing for long life. When I asked him exactly how long I would live, he declined to say, replying that this is known only by G-d. All he would say is that a time would come when I would be required to relate this story to a group of Jews who did not know him. This would be a sign that my days were ending. Now, I see the truth of his words, but thanks to him, I have been able to bring this matter to a happy conclusion.
The young couple lived out their days in peace, and the governor was soon brought to his final rest.
Although we are in the midst of exile, the dominant nation in this exile is a generous country, a country who offers assistance to many nations and offers assistance to its Jewish residents. In appreciation, may G-d grant that country success in its war against Basra and may we soon merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, "Who is that coming in soiled garments from Basra?" with the coming of redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 16 Adar, 5751-1991, 2 days after the Gulf War ended on Purim 12 years ago)