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A blessing, a planting, and the flow of Divine Light. What do they have in common? Read on.
"Baruch Ata Ado - nai Elo - keinu melech haolam...," after the Shema, this is perhaps the most familiar Hebrew phrase to anyone who has learned even a little about Judaism. These words begin most blessings, from blessings on food to the blessing for Shabbat candles.
They are usually translated: Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who..." But, what is a blessing? And what does it mean, that we bless G-d? Shouldn't G-d be blessing us?
To answer these questions, we have to look at the Hebrew word for blessing - bracha. In Hebrew, words with similar letter patterns have similar meanings. The noun bracha is related to the root verb that means to bend a vine branch down into the soil, so that it takes root. This is the process by which a new vine is produced.
The connection between the two words means there is a similarity between the agricultural process and the spiritual concept. Defining one, we can understand the other: Agriculturally, we're talking about taking a branch, which is an extension of the source (or root), implanting it within the earth, and thus producing (or creating) a new growth.
Spiritually, then, a bracha (blessing) is an extension and implantation. A bracha extends and draws down the Divine Light from Its source in the Infinite implanting G-dliness in the world where we live. That results in an increase, a new dimension, if you will, of Divine Light in the world.
When we are making a blessing we are describing how You, G-d, are the source of the Divine Light which extends through and penetrates into all the worlds of existence.
But, with a knowledge of Hebrew grammar, we can find a deeper and more powerful way to read the formula at the beginning of each blessing. We can read it not "Blessed are You," merely passive and descriptive, but "Blessed be You" as an active request and instruction.
According to this reading it is our blessing which actually evokes or initiates the flow of Divine Light and causes it to permeate - and be revealed within - the material objects of this physical world. Our words are the activating agent not just for the drawing down of G-dliness, but for its revelation within the most mundane aspects of creation.
This tapping in to the Divine, all encompassing light of Creation, and allowing it to illuminate our lives as Jews, as expressed in the Hebrew words, "L-rd, Our G-d," is powerful enough. But that is only stage one.
The blessing continues "King of the Universe"
This means that the infusion - and revelation - of Divine Light should penetrate the whole world, to every human being, indeed to every living creature and even every material object.
So you see there is tremendous power in a blessing, the power to evoke an outpouring and revelation of G-dliness that benefits not only the individual making the blessing, but the entire universe and all of existence.
No wonder our Sages decreed we should make a hundred blessings a day!
This week's Torah portion, Sh'lach, literally "Send," narrates the story of the 12 spies who were sent on a special shlichut (mission) to the Land of Israel.
The spies were instructed to scout out the land in order to determine the best strategy the Jews should employ to conquer it. Indeed, when they returned from their mission, they gave their report on the land and its inhabitants.
Their sin, however, consisted in going one step further. In addition to providing the information they were supposed to obtain, the spies insisted on venturing their own opinion about the mission itself: "We will not be able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we!" they declared.
G-d hadn't asked the spies whether or not they thought conquering the land was possible. Their mission was solely a fact-finding mission; adding their own opinion and discouraging the Jewish people from fulfilling G-d's request was thus an egregious transgression.
In principle, a shliach (emissary) is required to carry out his mission to the best of his ability, no more and no less. Altering that mission to accommodate his own thoughts and feelings is a distortion of the assignment with which he was entrusted.
In truth, every Jew is an emissary of G-d, Who caused him to be born into this world in order to fulfill a unique mission. For the mission of every Jew is to transform his surroundings into "the Land of Israel" - a "dwelling place for G-d" - through the performance of Torah and mitzvot (commandments).
As G-d's emissary, the Jew is required to "scout out the land" - to determine the best possible method of fulfilling his assignment. Each individual's circumstances in life will determine the answer, be it through strengthening his observance of Shabbat, keeping kosher more stringently, lighting Shabbat candles or putting on tefilin.
G-d doesn't ask the Jew if it is possible to attain his goal; the very fact that he has been sent for the purpose of bringing G-dliness into the world indicates that the "land" can indeed be conquered. As Caleb put it, "We should go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it." No matter how difficult the mission may seem, a Jew must never arrive at the spies' conclusion and despair of ever being victorious.
Yes, the Jew is entrusted with a special mission, but G-d has given him the power and capacity to fulfill his mission. Bearing this in mind is the key to success.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5743of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
My Journey to Kosher
by Vivian Perez
"Why keep kosher?" was the foremost question on my mind ever since I decided to do something concrete about being Jewish. I used to pester my rabbi, Rabbi Yehoshua Binyomin Rosenfeld of Colombia, with that question at every possible opportunity, and he would always take the time to explain, yet again.
As newlyweds, my husband and I started to attend the rabbi's weekly Jewish studies classes. I remember looking questioningly at the rabbi, never being quite satisfied with any of the reasons as to why I should observe kosher. None of the answers seemed to justify changing my accustomed eating habits. Until one day. I don't really remember how, but I made the decision to just jump in. I decided I was just going to do it even though I still didn't understand it completely.
I'm not an impulsive kind of a person - quite the opposite, in fact. But something deep inside made me just dive in and begin keeping kosher. In that moment (I didn't truly realize it then) I felt that I dove into the comforting waters of kosher living.
As anyone who has ever gone deep-sea diving knows, it is only after you're enveloped by the sea that you begin to see and appreciate its hidden beauty.
Only after I actually started feeling beholden to and observing the kosher dietary laws did the answers begin to come. Surprisingly enough, they didn't come from outside; they came from somewhere within. The more meticulously I kept kosher, the deeper the answers from within resounded.
At first, I remember how joyous I was to feel my "Jewish essence." Every time I ate, I was reminded of my identity - my Jewish soul. Something that was once so physical had become so spiritual. I was awed at discovering that we can master such self-control, commitment, and purpose. I was experiencing and feeling how observing kosher captivated my entire life. In fact, my perspective on life had changed. No longer was I questioning and analyzing everything, for I felt that everything in creation was analyzing me.
Life was never going to be as trivial, as routine, as "dry" as it was before I committed myself to going completely kosher. It marked the beginning of the entry into the sea of inner-knowledge.
Through observing the kosher dietary laws in my day-to-day life, I came to understand what life is really about: there is a Creator. He knows our anatomy because He designed it. And He knows that the Jew has a holy soul which must be nurtured and guarded. There is physicality and spirituality. Each person has a holy soul and an animal soul. There are permissible foods and non-permissible foods. Just as we know that the air we exhale is only as good as the air we inhale, so too, what comes out of us through our thoughts, speech, or actions is influenced by what goes in.
Now that I observe the Jewish dietary laws, I think back on my eating habits before my observance with the following analogy: Think of the finest automobile in the world, and one day deciding to fill up the gas tank with heavy, leaded gasoline. After all, no one should dictate to me what to put into "my" car. It's mine. I can do what I want! And after the "fill up"? Maybe the car is still all shiny outside, but the engine just doesn't perform to its potential. For me, that's how I understand kosher.
Observing kosher has liberated my soul. No longer a spectator, it became the protagonist in my life. My soul sought to express itself not just at appointed food intervals, but in every conduit of the body, filling the body with divine purpose. Even in mundane, day-to-day dealings, I realized that there are "kosher" and non-kosher ways to conduct affairs, and I became sensitive to going about my life in a kosher manner.
To me, kosher observance is like "The Declaration of Independence" for the soul. To express, expand and permeate the depths of the kingdom, which is the body.
To think of the kosher dietary laws as just a grueling regiment with routine requirements and regulations, is like telling a professional diver in full scuba gear to stay close to the shore, to not dive beyond the shallow waters. That's how frustrated my soul felt when it was not given the fuel needed for its realization.
So, take the dive. Once you do, keep on going, deeper and deeper. Allow yourself to become enwrapped in the ocean and to see what magical beauty will reveal itself from within your own soul that you may never have known you had. Reprinted with permission from
P.S. Thank you Rabbi Yehoshua, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary in Colombia, for motivating my soul to take the first dive.
Reprinted with permission from the upcoming book Going. Kosher in 30 Days by Rabbi Zalman Goldstein.
On the 21st anniversary of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Chabad's Children of Chernobyl (CCOC) brought their 77th group of victims to Israel. This most recent group was comprised on 15 children and one woman who is the mother of 3 children who came 6 months earlier on flight #75. This brings the total number of children rescued to 2,462.
Rabbi Yitzchok and Nina Naparstek have moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Rabbi Naparstek will serve as director of Adult Education and Mrs. Naparstek will direct youth and women's programs. Rabbi Sholom Ber and Elie Estrin will be arriving soon in Raleigh, North Carolina, where they will be directing the youth programs and the pre-school. Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff are establishing a new Chabad House in College Station, Texas, to serve the students and faculty at Texas A&M University. Rabbi Chanoch and Chavie Parshan are starting a new Chabad Center in Canyon Country, California, to serve the needs of the Jewish community there. Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya Sara Hahn recently arrived in Spokane, Washington, to open a new Chabad Center serving the Jewish community of Spokane county. Rabbi Yossi and Goldie Grossbaum recently launched Chabad of Folsom, in Northern California. Rabbi and Mrs. Menachem Feldman have moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where Rabbi Feldman is serving as Director of Adult Education and Mrs. Feldman as Director of the Chabad Hebrew School.
14 Shvat, 5704 (1944)
... According to the will of He Who performs wonders and Who connects the body to the soul, the existence of the body and its connection with the soul which enables a person to live is dependent on two factors:
- the blood that is produced by the digestion of the food and drink which the person has ingested;
- the air that a person breathes. The above are the functions of the windpipe and the esophagus,
both of which are to be severed in order for ritual slaughter to be done properly.
Although both of these - air, and food and drink - are necessary for a person's life, there is a distinction between them. We eat and drink only at specific times. As our Sages comment (Yoma 75b): "At the outset, the Jewish people were like chickens pecking at the ground until Moses came and established times for meals." Similarly, the Rambam states (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Deos): "A person should not eat unless he is hungry, nor should he drink unless he is thirsty."
Breathing, in contrast, must be constant (i.e., this is the ordinary pattern). Thus our Sages said that a person can live seven days without eating or drinking (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Sh'vuos 5:20). If, however, he does not breathe for even a short time, he will die....
As a logical consequence, it is understood that since food and drink maintain the body and its connection with the soul, the food and drink that a person ingests must be appropriate for this function. Moreover, the quality of the food one eats affects the quality of the body in general, and its connection with the soul in particular.
... Moreover, there are times when a person's speech or thoughts can cause a food that would not otherwise be forbidden - e.g., a person who slaughters an animal in worship of the mountains (Chulin 39b) - to bring about undesirable traits in a person who eats it. For example, while she was pregnant with him, the mother of Elisha Acher partook of food that was being offered to the worship of a false deity and this caused her son to adopt an undesirable lifestyle (Rus Rabbah 3:13).
We cannot say that Acher's conduct came as a punishment for his mother's deed, and not as a natural result of the food's spiritual nature, for his mother did not perform a transgression when partaking of the food. She was pregnant at the time and had smelled the aroma of the food. In such an instance, she should be given the food and allowed to partake of it (Yoma 82a); indeed, it is a mitzvah to do so.
It is difficult to say that the offering is considered an auxiliary of the worship of false divinities in which case the principle "die, rather than transgress" would apply. Also, the wording "they gave her from that type of food and she ate it," implies that it was necessary that they give her the food, i.e., she was incapable of eating herself.
Therefore we are forced to say that even if there is an element of punishment involved, there is also a natural process of cause and effect. Since the food is forbidden, it brings about certain tendencies in a person who partakes of it. Nevertheless, in a situation where there is a danger to a person's life, it is a mitzvah for him to partake of the food, even though doing so will cause undesirable character traits.
The food has not undergone any change. Instead, its nature and its qualities remain. For this person, however, it has become permitted to eat. Moreover, even with regard to that particular person, it is merely that the threat to life takes precedence over the prohibition; it does not, however, countermand it. ...
Causing oneself this minor dimension of harm by eating the prohibited food can be compared to surgically removing a limb to save the body as a whole.
In general, if the food is forbidden, a person's soul is repulsed by it, and the fact that he ate it is not considered eating. This applies even if he ate it without knowing that the food was forbidden as the Rambam rules (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Terumos 10:10, based on Talmud Yerushalmi, Terumos 6:2).
If the above applies regarding eating and drinking, certainly, and how much more so, does it apply to the air. The air must be clean and pure, both physically and spiritually, so that a person can be healthy and fully developed in both a material and spiritual sense. In this vein, our Sages gave us several examples, stating (Bava Basra 158b): "The air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise," and (Sanhedrin 109a): "The air above the site of the Tower of Bavel causes forgetfulness."
With regard to the effect of the air on the body and its health, Bereishis Rabbah (ch. 34:15) states: "What is the air of that place like?" ... And the Zohar (Vol. III, p. 10a) states: "The created beings differ in their appearance because of the difference in the air, each one according to its place."
It is, however, true that in these two sources the term avira translated as "air," could also be translated as "climate." As we find the term avir used with that intent in the statement (Bereishis Rabbah, loc. cit.): "There is a covenant established with the aviros," where the intent is "climate." In the Talmud, however, as of yet, I have not found the word avir used with the meaning "climate." ...
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit, translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
What is Chitat ("Chitas")?
Chitat is an acronym for Chumash (the Five Book of Moses), Tehilim (Psalms) and Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy). The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted a study schedule that included reading daily from the week's Torah portion with the commentary of Rashi, as it is divided for the Torah reading; a number of chapters of Psalms as apportioned for the days of the month; and a daily passage of Tanya. The word "chitat" is found in Genesis (35:5) in the verse, "A terror (chitat) of G-d was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob." The Lubavitcher Rebbe continuously urged people (of all persuasions) to study Chitat regularly, as well as the daily portion of Maimonides' Mishna Torah (or Sefer HaMitzvot).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 28th of the Hebrew month of Sivan is the anniversary of the arrival in the United States of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin.
Twenty-eight in Hebrew letters spells Ko-ach, meaning "strength." The Rebbe explained this means that strength and permanence are contributed to the entire day, and this in turn gives strength to every Jew to carry out his preparation for the ultimate redemption.
The Rebbe went on to explain that it was in "770" (Eastern Parkway) that the spreading of the wellsprings of Chasidut, the prerequisite to Moshiach's revelation, reached its most complete expression.
He referred to 770 using the Talmudic term "Beit Rabbeinu Shebebavel" meaning literally "the house of our Master in Babylonia," which our Sages refer to as the location of the Holy Temple in exile, so to speak.
"Not coincidentally," explained the Rebbe, "770 has the numerical value of the Hebrew word 'poratzta' meaning 'and you shall spread forth.' And it is from 770, explained the Rebbe, that the first revelation of the Third Holy Temple will take place, encompassing the entire building from its lowest levels until its rooftop.
"The rooftop is the place where Moshiach stands and announces, 'Humble ones, the time for your redemption has come.' The rooftop of the Holy Temple," continued the Rebbe, "refers to the miniature sanctuary of the Diaspora - Beit Rabbeinu, which represents the Holy Temple of Jerusalem."
It is also not coincidental, the Rebbe pointed out, that "770" is the numerical value of "Beit Moshiach" - the House of Moshiach.
May we all go together with the Rebbe and 770 and all the miniature sanctuaries - every shul and every Jewish home, for that matter - to the actual site of the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem, now.
Akavya ben Mehalel said: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come near sin..." (Ethics 3:1)
Three things cause a person to sin: arrogance and disdain for others; indulgence in pleasures and worldly acquisitions; imagining that there is no ultimate judgment and accounting. Hence, when a person reflects upon the three things written in our Mishna, he will uproot the causes of sin from his soul.
Reflection in this sense is indicative of the deepest levels of meditation. When a person takes the mission for which his soul descended to this world seriously, he will reflect upon the ultimate elevation of his soul - which comes about through his being in this world - and he knows that eventually he is destined to give an accounting. By reflecting thus, he will certainly not come near sin - he will not transgress inadvertently, and he will fulfill his mission in life fully.
(Ma'amarim of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, 5705)
Rabbi Chanina, the deputy Kohen Gadol, said: "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive..." (Ethics 3:2)
Our Sages state that the authority on earth is like the authority in Heaven, since the former derives from the latter. Therefore, when a person "prays for the welfare of the government" below, he comes to the awareness, not only of fear of authority in this world, but also awe of the King of kings. And by virtue of this fear and his subservience to G-d, his feelings of superiority and disdain for others - due to which "men would swallow one another alive" - is suppressed and subdued.
(Likutei Sichot vol. 17)
Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa said: "Give to Him of that which is His, for you and whatever is yours are His..." (Ethics 3:7)
A person shouldn't be miserly in charitable matters and in spending for G-d's honor. A person should realize that what he gives is really G-d's, and therefore, he must give generously and joyfully. The Midrash states, "Does anyone precede Me, so that I have to pay you back? You never had to place a mezuza on the door post until I gave you a house, nor a railing around your roof before I gave you the roof, nor tzitzit on your garment until I gave you the garment!"
The Torah scholar named Reb Yosef lived in the city of Nikopol, in northern Bulgaria. Although Reb Yosef's main interest and joy in life was the study of Torah, he insisted on supporting his family through his own labor. To that end, he entered into a business partnership with an acquaintance and opened a store. But the division of labor would prove to be problematic.
Reb Yosef's daily schedule was as follows: After waking up early in the morning to pray, Reb Yosef would go to the study hall for several hours, and did not arrive in his store until noon. His partner, who had already been dealing with customers for several hours, eventually began to resent this arrangement. He respected his partner's diligence in Torah study, but at the same time needed help with the practical aspect of running a business.
Reb Yosef realized that his partner was right and remained silent. "But what can I do," he thought to himself, "if my love of Torah is so strong?"
One morning Reb Yosef was studying when someone raised a particularly complex question in Torah law. The discussion that ensued lasted for hours as all the scholars in the study hall attempted to answer it. By the time Reb Yosef looked up from his volume of Talmud it was already late in the afternoon.
When Reb Yosef finally arrived at the store his partner was furious. "That's it!" he fumed. "I've had enough of this joint venture!"
Reb Yosef asked his partner to wait one more day before dissolving the partnership, as he wished to consult with his wife. That evening he went home and asked her opinion. His wife, a righteous woman, advised him to continue learning, and not reduce the number of hours devoted to Torah study. "If your partner wishes to close one door to you, I have full faith that G-d, Who opens the gates of salvation, will surely unlock other channels through which to send His blessing."
Encouraged by his wife's words, the next day Reb Yosef returned to the store and announced that he was willing to end the partnership amicably. Reb Yosef was given half the value of the store's holdings and suddenly found himself unemployed.
"There's no point in letting the money just sit at home," his wife advised him the following morning. "Why don't you go to the marketplace and look for another business venture?" Reb Yosef agreed it was a good idea and set out at once. But he was so involved in his Torah thoughts that by force of habit his feet led him in the direction of the study hall, where he remained until evening. Only when his wife questioned him that night did he remember what he had set out to do. "Don't worry," he told her, "G-d will surely send something my way tomorrow."
The next day Reb Yosef had barely entered the marketplace when an unusually tall man approached him with a huge mortar and pestle for sale. Reb Yosef handed over all his money and bought the mortar and pestle with his last cent.
"What will we do with this old mortar and pestle?" his wife wondered when he returned home. But Reb Yosef wasn't worried and went off to the study hall.
Two days later Reb Yosef had a curious dream in which the tall man who had sold him the mortar and pestle told him a secret. "You should know," he revealed, "that good fortune has long been awaiting you, which was not meant to be shared by your former partner. That is why it was necessary that you part ways. But now that you're on your own, your hour has come.
"The mortar and pestle I sold you," he continued, "is made out of pure gold. You must learn its true worth before you can receive fair compensation. Then you must leave this place, as it is not where you belong. Go to the Land of Israel, and live in the city of Safed."
The next morning Reb Yosef recounted his dream to his wife, who immediately summoned a goldsmith for an appraisal. The goldsmith rubbed off the accumulated dust and dirt and was astonished by what he saw. "This mortar and pestle is made out of pure gold!" he told them, and determined that it was worth a fortune.
The mortar and pestle were quickly sold, and Reb Yosef and his wife moved to the Land of Israel and settled in Safed. The money from the sale was enough to support them for the rest of their lives. But the thing that pleased Reb Yosef most was that it finally enabled him to publish his two greatest works, the Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch. For Reb Yosef was none other than Rabbi Yosef Karo, the famous medieval codifer of Rabbinic law.
When our ancestors were in the wilderness, on the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel, they were commanded to be vigilant with the kosher status of their vessels, and with the purity and sanctity of their family life. In our days, too, in these last days of exile, our generation should be particularly vigilant with these two mitzvos - with kashrus and with the laws of family purity - as a preparation for our entry into the Land of Israel together with our Righteous Moshiach.
(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIII, p. 297)